The Labour Party has called on the government to reverse its controversial decision to appoint former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott to a senior trade role and described the move as “completely unacceptable”.
In a letter sent today to the International Trade Secretary and women and equalities minister Liz Truss, Labour’s Marsha de Cordova urged her to look for “an expert with views on women and equalities that better reflect our British values”.
The Shadow Women and Equalities Secretary highlighted Abbott’s record for misogynistic and homophobic comments, including his comments on the “sex appeal” of two female politicians.
De Cordova also criticised Truss for refusing to condemn Abbott’s remarks in the Commons and described Health Secretary Matt Hancock’s defence of the former Australian Prime Minister this morning as “deeply disturbing”.
The letter follows reports that Abbott will be appointed as joint president of the UK’s relaunched Board of Trade. Critics have been quick to point out the numerous controversial remarks he has made over the course of his career.
Labour leader Keir Starmer told Sky News this afternoon that he has “real concerns about Tony Abbott” and that if he were Prime Minister he would not appoint the former Australian politician to the senior trade role.
Commenting on the decision earlier this week, Emily Thornberry said: “On a personal level, it is shameful that Boris Johnson thinks this offensive, aggressive, leering, gaffe-prone misogynist is the right person to represent our country overseas.”
The Shadow International Trade Secretary added: “This is someone with no hands-on experience of negotiating trade agreements, who denies the climate change that we believe should be at the heart of our trade policy, and who clearly has no concept of the importance of Britain’s trade with the EU.
“He was ousted by his own colleagues after just two years in power, and rejected by his own constituents just last year.
“They are the people who know him best, and wanted rid of him, yet here we are now, hiring him to negotiate our trade deals around the world. It’s yet more breathtaking incompetence from a government that has turned it into an art-form.”
Below is the full text of the letter sent to Liz Truss this evening.
3 September 2020
Dear Secretary of State,
The Labour Party takes great pride in being the party of equality, tolerance and respect for all communities. It has a proud record of taking action which supports women, the LGBT community and marginalised groups, both in government and in opposition.
Labour therefore finds reports that Tony Abbott will be appointed to the Board of Trade completely unacceptable.
Tony Abbott’s offensive and outdated views on women are well known, including characterising women as housewives who did the ironing and suggesting that uppermost in two female politicians’ qualities for office were their ‘sex appeal’. His views on homosexuality, including his admission that he feels threatened by the LGBT community, and that ‘most people do’, are both dangerous and divisive.
That the Health Secretary should attempt to excuse these views by saying ‘he is also an expert on trade’ is deeply disturbing, not to mention inaccurate, as my colleague, the Shadow Secretary of State for International Trade has pointed out.
As you are also the Minister for Women and Equalities, I was disappointed to see your own refusal to condemn these comments at the dispatch box earlier today, twice refusing to answer questions on the appointment. Nor have you condemned Mr Abbott’s track record of other offensive and inflammatory statements, towards Muslims, immigrants and indigenous Australians.
This is yet another example of incompetence from this government and a failure to respect the diversity of our communities. The Labour Party urges the government not to make this appointment and look instead for an expert with views on women and equalities that better reflect our British values.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Marsha de Cordova MP
Member of Parliament for Battersea
Shadow Secretary of State for Women and Equalities