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Tony Abbott confirmed as UK trade envoy despite blistering backlash over homophobic and misogynist comments

Emma Powys Maurice September 4, 2020

Former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott has secured the role of UK trade adviser (Stefan Postles/Getty)

Downing Street has confirmed Tony Abbott as UK trade envoy, dismissing concerns over his many homophobic and misogynist comments.

The former Australian prime minister was named as an unpaid trade adviser to the UK on Friday (September 4) after days of backlash concerning his suitability to represent the country on the world stage.

Abbott will not have a direct role in trade negotiations, but will instead advise ministers and officials as part of the Board of Trade.

When health secretary Matt Hancock was asked Thursday (September 3) why a “homophobe and misogynist” had been appointed to such a prominent role, Hancock desperately attempted to justify the decision by saying: “He’s also an expert on trade!”

The embarrassing exchange brought Abbott’s abysmal views to the fore, eventually prompting Boris Johnson to distance himself from Abbott while simultaneously defending the choice to hire him.

“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,” Johnson said during a visit to Solihull.

“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.”

Tony Abbott
Former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott (Stefan Postles/Getty Images)

Johnson’s claim to disagree with Abbott’s homophobic views will come as a surprise to many LGBT+ people, who are still waiting for him to apologise for the many homophobic slurs on his own record.

The prime minister infamously referred to gay people as “tank-topped bum boys” and declined the many requests to apologise from his own LGBT+ Conservatives as well as PinkNews.

Speaking during a BBC Question Time leaders’ special three weeks before the 2019 general election, Johnson suggested that any offence was manufactured.

“If you go through all my articles with a fine-tooth comb and take out individual phrases, there is no doubt that you can find things that can be made to seem offensive and of course I understand that.”

To give it its full context, the “bum boy” quote dates back to a 1998 Telegraph column about the gay MP Peter Mandelson’s resignation from the New Labour cabinet.

“Weep, O ye shirt-makers of Jermyn Street, ye Cool Brittania tailors and whatever exists of human finer feeling,” Johnson wrote. “In the Ministry of Sound, the tank-topped bum boys blub into their Pils.”

Mayor of London Boris Johnson wears a pink stetson hat at the Gay Pride parade on July 5,
The then-Mayor of London Boris Johnson wearing a pink stetson hat at the city’s Pride parade on July 5, 2008. (Peter Macdiarmid/Getty)

Johson’s record, though offensive, pales in comparison to Abbott’s own.

During his time in office Abbott blocked free votes in parliament on same-sex marriage – and became the de facto leader of the anti-gay marriage campaign when his successor Malcolm Turnbull put the issue up for a public vote in 2017.

During the postal vote campaign, Abbott encouraged people to oppose same-sex marriage to “protect women and children”, explaining his belief that “children should have both a mother and a father”.

Abbott also hit out at “moral bullying” from the “gay lobby”, and told Australians: “If you don’t like same-sex marriage, vote no. If you are worried about freedom of speech and freedom of religion, vote no. If you don’t like political correctness, vote no, because this is the best way to stop it in its tracks.”

During his campaign, Abbott even suggest it would be “best” for his gay sister’s children to be raised by a straight couple, worsening a family feud that also led his own children to speak out in support of their aunt.

 

More: Boris Johnson, Conservative Party, homophobic slurs, Tony Abbott

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