Matt Hancock has defended the decision to award a senior trade job to form Australian prom minister Tony Abbott – dismissing concerns that he is a misogynist and homophobe.
Questioned on Sky News, the Health Secretary said he does not believe that Mr Abbott is homophobic or misogynistic, and, when pressed, added: “He’s also an expert in trade.”
Mr Abbott is in talks to become joint president of the relaunched Board of Trade but critics have raised numerous concerns, including over his belief that coronavirus restrictions should be lifted.
He has previously said that he feels “a bit threatened” by homosexuality, opposed same-sex marriage, and was accused of misogyny by fellow former Australian prime minister Julia Gillard.
‘Huge amount of experience’
Mr Hancock, wearing an NHS badge with the LGBTQ rainbow flag, was pressed over the suitability of Mr Abbott, who led his nation from 2013 until he was ousted by his own party in 2015.
“I bow to nobody in my support for everybody to love who they love, whoever that is,” he said.
“But we need to have the best experts in the world working in their field and the former prime minister of Australia has a huge amount of experience.”
Mr Hancock said “I don’t think that’s true” when pressed about allegations of homophobia and misogyny.
But Sky’s Kay Burley said “he’s a homophobe and he’s a misogynist”, to which Mr Hancock replied: “He’s also an expert in trade.”
Opposition MPs were highly critical of the defence, with shadow minister Peter Kyle saying ministers “don’t even pretend not to embrace bigots anymore”.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said in an interview: “I have real concerns about Tony Abbott and I don’t think he’s the right person for the job. If I was prime minister I wouldn’t appoint him.”
Labour MP Marie Rimmer said: “Surely there’s trade experts who aren’t homophobic and misogynists? Britain deserves better than Tony Abbott representing us on the world stage.”
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said Mr Abbott’s coronavirus views are “deeply offensive and wrong” and he is not fit to be a trade envoy.
“But Tony Abbott, before these comments, is a misogynist, he’s a sexist, he’s a climate change denier,” she told Sky News.
“Trade, in many respects, should reflect our values – there should be ethics attached to any country’s trading profile.”
International Trade Secretary Liz Truss was later grilled by opposition MPs in the House of Commons about the planned appointment.
Ms Truss said: “I think it’s absolute hypocrisy to hear this type of argument from the Labour Party. The reality is they’d rather virtue-signal and indulge in tokenism rather than take real action to improve the lives of women.”