Controversial figure Tony Abbott has been appointed to the Board of Trade, despite critics arguing the former Australian prime minister was not suitable to be a Government adviser.
Critics raised numerous concerns over allegations against the 62-year-old, including his climate change scepticism and belief that coronavirus restrictions should be lifted.
The move seemed to cause splits even among fellow board appointees.
Anne Boden, founder of the online-only bank Starling, tweeted to say she was “pleased to be advising the Board of Trade” and said it was “important that we have challenging voices” speaking to ministers.
But the financial-technology expert added that she supported diversity and “so did this woman”, linking to a 2012 speech by another former Australian prime minister, Julia Gillard, in which she accused Mr Abbott of being a misogynist in the country’s equivalent of the House of Commons.
Wales-born Ms Gillard quoted the then-leader of the opposition as having asked during a discussion “What if men are by physiology or temperament more adapted to exercise authority or to issue command?”
In other comments, Mr Abbott, who led Australia for two years between 2013 and 2015, also previously said he felt “a bit threatened” by homosexuality.
But Prime Minister Boris Johnson defended him, heralding his status as a former leader of “freedom-loving” and “liberal” Australia.
The new Board of Trade will play an important role making the case for free and fair trade in 🇬🇧 and 🌍.— Liz Truss (@trussliz) September 4, 2020
The Board brings together a diverse group of people who share Britainâs belief in free enterprise, democracy, high standards and rules-based trade.👇https://t.co/ffqcKD9dnB
The Department for International Trade formally announced on Friday that Mr Abbott will form part of the new-look Board of Trade, in what is said to be an unpaid role.
In its announcement, the department stressed that advisers to the board will have “no direct role in striking trade deals”.
The UK is currently looking to agree its own trade agreements for the first time in more than 40 years after leaving the European Union in January.
It is conducting negotiations with the US, Japan, New Zealand and Australia where Mr Abbott, an ex-leader of the Liberal Party, was prime minister for two years from 2013-15.
Trade Secretary Liz Truss said: “The new Board of Trade will play an important role in helping Britain make the case for free and fair trade across the UK and around the world.
“At a time of increased protectionism and global insecurity, it’s vital that the UK is a strong voice for open markets and that we play a meaningful role in reshaping global trading rules alongside like-minded countries.
“The new board will help us do that, bringing together a diverse group of people who share Britain’s belief in free enterprise, democracy, and high standards and rules-based trade.”
Shadow trade secretary Emily Thornberry, however, said Mr Abbott had “no credentials for this role”.
The senior Labour figure said he had a “history of offensive statements” and argued the Oxford University graduate had “no experience of detailed trade negotiations” and blamed him for “killing off Australia’s car industry”.
“Tony Abbott is therefore the wrong appointment on every level, which begs the more important question of why on earth Boris Johnson and Liz Truss have given him the job,” said Ms Thornberry.
The SNP called the decision “beyond indefensible” and said it “speaks volumes about the kind of Tory Government this is”.
But the London-born conservative figure has been defended by his sister Christine Forster.
In a statement posted on Twitter, she wrote: “It is nothing short of dishonesty for commentators and politicians who do not know Tony to label him a ‘homophobe and a misogynist’ for the purposes of scoring cheap political points.
“As a woman who has always been part of his life and who came out to him as gay in my early 40s, I know incontrovertibly that Tony is neither of those things.”
She concluded that her brother would be an “outstanding” UK trade envoy based on his track record as prime minister.
Other non-ministerial appointments to the board include former Tory MEP and Brexit campaigner Daniel Hannan and Patricia Hewitt, a former president of the Board of Trade during Tony Blair’s tenure in Downing Street.