Boris Johnson has defended trade role prospect Tony Abbott amid allegations of homophobia and misogyny, saying the former prime minister’s election by the people of Australia “speaks for itself”.
Ministers have come under pressure to scrap proposals to make Mr Abbott joint president of the relaunched Board of Trade.
Critics have raised numerous concerns over the allegations, including his climate change scepticism and belief that coronavirus restrictions should be lifted.
Asked about the claims on Friday, Mr Johnson said: “There’s going to be an announcement I think in due course about the composition of the Board of Trade.
“I don’t, obviously don’t agree with those sentiments at all, but then I don’t agree with everyone who serves the Government in an unpaid capacity on hundreds of boards across the country.
“And I can’t be expected to do so.
“What I would say about Tony Abbott is this is a guy who was elected by the people of the great liberal democratic nation of Australia.
“It’s an amazing country, it’s a freedom-loving country, it’s a liberal country. There you go, I think that speaks for itself.”
Mr Abbott has previously said he felt “a bit threatened” by homosexuality and was accused of misogyny by fellow former Australian prime minister Julia Gillard.
Prominent LGBT figures including Sir Ian McKellen and Doctor Who writer Russell T Davies have signed an open letter alongside environmental activists to ask the Government to reconsider his potential appointment.
The letter, first reported by ITV News, said: “This is a man who described abortion as ‘the easy way out’ and suggested that men may be ‘by physiology or temperament more adapted to exercise authority or to issue command’.”
It added that Mr Abbott “vigorously campaigned” against Australia’s successful marriage equality referendum in 2017 and had said climate change is “probably doing good”.
Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, who also signed the letter, said appointing the former prime minister would “send the wrong signal”.
Mr Abbott, who led his nation from 2013 until he was ousted by his own party in 2015, has been defended by his sister Christine Forster.
In a statement posted to 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.”
Speculation has mounted that Downing Street may back down from their plans after the criticism.
Labour has written to the Government urging it not to appoint Mr Abbott, saying to do so would be “completely unacceptable” because of his “offensive and outdated” views.