Boris Johnson's makes former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott Brexit trade adviser tsar
- Former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott is set to advise the UK government on post-Brexit trade.
- Abbott, a friend of Boris Johnson's Conservatives, will reportedly join the UK Board of Trade.
- Abbott has been accused by opponents in both Australia and the UK of misogyny and climate change denial.
- A former colleague of Abbott in the Australian parliament said his appointment was being "viewed with bemusement."
- The opposition UK Labour Party said the appointment was "absolutely staggering."
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Politicians in the UK and Australia have reacted with confusion and dismay to reports that Boris Johnson has appointed former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott to advise Britain on its post-Brexit trade arrangements.
The Sun newspaper on Tuesday evening reported that Abbott, who served as Australian prime minister between 2013 and 2015, would serve as co-president of the UK Board of Trade as Johnson's government seeks to sign free trade agreements with countries like Australia, the US, and Japan.
Australian journalist Bevan Shields reported that Abbott would be an adviser, not co-president. A senior source in Canberra seconded this, telling Business Insider that Abbott would serve in an advisory capacity. There has been speculation about Johnson bringing Abbott into into the fold for some time, The Guardian newspaper reports.
Abbott is a vocal supporter of Britain's decision to leave the EU having originally advised Brits to vote Remain. He is a popular figure within UK Conservative circles and has spoken to packed-out rooms of party members at Conservative party conferences.
The UK government revamped the Board of Trade to coincide with the UK's exit from the EU. Its job is to promote Britain's status as an independent trading nation to the world as it tries to sign several trade deals in the coming years.
However, economists have lambasted Abbott for downplaying the economic risk on of a no-deal Brexit to the UK.
In a column for The Spectator last year, he said a no-deal Brexit would be "no problem" as Australia has a "perfectly satisfactory 'no deal' relationship" with the EU. "A no-deal relationship with the EU has not stopped Australia doing about US$70 billion worth of trade with the EU in goods and services," he said.
Economists pointed out that unlike the UK, Australia does not rely on complex, just-in-time supply chains to import food, medicine, manufacturing goods, and other products from Europe, and that UK trade with the EU dwarfs Australia's trade with the bloc. A former senior colleague of Turnbull in the Australian parliament said the appointment "is being viewed with bemusement" in Australia due to what is widely seen as a lack of credentials to advise on trade.
"Abbott is not a commercial guy, at all. He's a very much a political person. I suspect Boris wants us him to go out there and talk about how great Brexit is," they told Business Insider.
Abbott's record of misogyny and climate change denial
Abbott, who was born in south London, was ousted as Australian prime minister in 2015 after losing a leadership challenge to fellow Liberal Party parliamentarian Malcolm Turnbull.
He is a controversial figure in Australian politics, not least due to accusations of sexism.
In what is now a famous speech to Australian parliamentarians including Abbott in 2012, ex-prime minister Julia Gillard said: "If he [Abbott] wants to know what misogyny looks like in modern Australia, he doesn't need a motion in the House of Representatives, he needs a mirror."
When asked in 2013 to compare Australian MP Fiona Scott with her predecessor Jackie Kelly, Abbott said they are "young, feisty, I think I can probably say have a bit of sex appeal." In 2010 he was accused of being "stuck in the past" after suggesting that Australian housewives are responsible for ironing clothes.
Labour's Shadow Trade Secretary Emily Thornberry said the appointment was "absolutely staggering."
She said: "I am disgusted that Boris Johnson thinks this offensive, leering, cantankerous, climate change-denying, Trump-worshipping misogynist is the right person to represent our country overseas," Thornberry told Politico.
In a statement, she added: "This is someone with no hands-on experience of negotiating trade agreements, who denies the climate change that we believe should be at the heart of our trade policy, and who clearly has no concept of the importance of Britain's trade with the EU.
"He was ousted by his own colleagues after just two years in power, and rejected by his own constituents just last year. They are the people who know him best, and wanted rid of him, yet here we are now, hiring him to negotiate our trade deals around the world." Abbott has also rubbished climate science. In 2010 he said climate change was "absolute crap" and in 2017 said that rising global temperatures "might even be beneficial" as more people die as a result of cold snaps than heatwaves.
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