Former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott has been handed a top job advising the UK government on trade – despite a string of allegedly homophobic and sexist comments.
Senior LGBT supporters including Sir Ian McKellen and Stonewall, as well as the Labour Party’s equalities spokesperson, had urged Boris Johnson to block the appointment.
Campaigners say he has described himself as being “threatened by homosexuality” and “vigorously” campaigned against legalising same-sex marriage in Australia.
Other reported comments include calling abortion “the easy way out” and saying men are “more adapted to exercise authority”.
The 62-year-old has also been accused of being a climate change denier and faced criticism for saying coronavirus restrictions should be lifted.
But when asked about his history on Friday, Mr Johnson said: “I obviously don’t agree with those sentiments at all.”
A statement from the Department for International Trade did not directly address the controversy, but said: “The new advisers to the board are announced at an important time for UK trade policy and as negotiations with the US, Japan, Australia and New Zealand enter their crucial latter stages – although advisers to the board will have no direct role in striking trade deals.
“The board will represent a range of views to help in its advisory function, promoting free and fair trade and advising on UK trade policy to the International Trade Secretary.”
During a visit to Solihull, Mr Johnson said of the decision to hire Mr Abbott: “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.”
But he added: “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”
Julia Gillard, another former Australian prime minister who famously branded Mr Abbott a misogynist in parliament in 2012, earlier told Sky News: “I stand by every word of it”.
In an interview with Kay Burley on Thursday, Health Secretary Matt Hancock did not to condemn Mr Abbott’s alleged homophobia and sexism, saying that “he’s also an expert in trade”.
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said Mr Abbott’s controversial coronavirus views are “deeply offensive and wrong” and he is not fit to be a trade envoy.