Former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott has reportedly been asked to help Britain drum up post-Brexit trade agreements around the world.
The controversial figure is to be appointed “joint president” of the UK’s Board of Trade in a bid to boost the nation’s deal-making potential, according to The Sun.
Downing Street would not comment on the matter, but The Independent understands no formal appointment to the relaunched Board of Trade has yet been made.
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However, Australia’s current prime minister Scott Morrison appeared to confirm Mr Abbott was in line for a UK trade role on the ABC network on Wednesday. “I think that’s a good hire. Well done Boris [Johnson] – good hire.”
Asked if Mr Abbott might have to register as a foreign agent under Australia’s Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme Act, Mr Morrison said: “If there’s paperwork for Tony to fill out, I’m sure he’ll get that done.”
Mr Abbott, who stepped down as prime minister in 2015 after losing a leadership contest in his right-wing Liberal Party, is no stranger to controversy.
His critics have accused him of downplaying the accepted science on climate change, and he sparked anger by reintroducing knighthoods to Australia in 2014.
He was also accused of misogyny in a famous speech by former Labour prime minister Julia Gillard after he questioned whether men having more power than women was necessarily “a bad thing”.
Mr Abbott, who lost his seat as an MP last year, has championed Brexit both before and after the 2016 EU referendum, and said last year Britain had nothing to fear from a no-deal exit from the bloc.
Labour’s shadow international trade secretary Emily Thornberry said she found the idea Mr Abbott would be handed a high-profile trade role by the UK government “staggering”.
She said: “On a personal level, 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.
“He was ousted by his own colleagues after two years in power, and kicked out of Australian politics by his own constituents just last year. They are the people who know him best, and they wanted rid of him – yet here we are, hiring him to negotiate our trade deals around the world. If it wasn’t so downright humiliating, it would be almost hilarious.”
The former Australian High Commissioner to the UK Mike Rann said the idea of Mr Abbott taking charge of Britain’s trade negotiations “would be about as credible as Australia asking Gavin Williamson to take charge of its education system”.