Baroness Cathy Ashton, who won Stonewall’s Politician of the Year award in 2006, has been named as the new European Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs.

During her time as leader of the House of Lords between 2007 and 2008, Ashton was a vocal supporter of gay rights and guided some key pieces of legislation through the upper chamber.

She won the Stonewall award in 2006 in recognition for her gay rights work and thanked the charity for helping her succeed in pushing through gay rights laws.

Her new role will give her responsibility for representing the EU’s 500 million citizens in dealing with other foreign powers such as Russia and the US.

Ashton, whose appointment came as a surprise to some who said she did not have enough foreign experience, said she was “humbled” at being selected for the role.

She told Radio 4′s Today programme: “Over the next few months and years I aim to show that I am the best person for the job.

“I think for quite a few people they would say that I am the best person for the job and I was chosen because I am, but I absolutely recognise there are a number of candidates around, all of whom would have been extremely good, extremely able.

“I hope that my particular set of skills will show that in the end I am the best choice.”

Speaking about her selection last night, prime minister Gordon Brown said: “It gives Britain a powerful voice both within the council and the commission. It will ensure, of course, that Britain’s voice is very loud and clear.”

Stonewall chief executive Ben Summerskill said: “Stonewall is delighted at Cathy Ashton’s appointment. Cathy won the Politician of the Year award at the first Stonewall Awards in 2006.

“She was recognised for her work in making it illegal to discriminate against gay people when providing goods, facilities and services.”

Ashton joined Brown’s first cabinet in June 2007.

From 1983-89 she was director of business in the community working with business to tackle inequality. She also established the Employers’ Forum on Disability, Opportunity Now, and the Windsor Fellowship.

In 1999 she was made a life peer and in 2004 she was appointed as Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department for Constitutional Affairs.

She became an education minister in 2001.

In 2005 she was voted House Magazine’s Minister of the Year and Channel 4 Peer of the Year.

In 2008, she replaced Peter Mandelson as EU Commissioner.