The Department for International Trade said Abbott, who led a conservative Australian government between 2013 and 2015, would serve on the U.K.’s Board of Trade. Opposition politicians and gay-rights groups had urged the government not to appoint Abbott, citing his opposition to same-sex marriage, persistent allegations of sexism and statements downplaying the impact of climate change. In power, his government repealed a carbon tax paid by polluting Australian industries.
A letter to the government signed by equality and environmental activists including “Lord of the Rings” star Ian McKellen, “Doctor Who” writer Russell T. Davies and leaders of the Pride in London festival said Abbott was “not fit to be representing the U.K. as our trade envoy.”
“If the government is truly committed to an outward-looking future for Britain, to tackling climate change and to creating an equal society for all, it should reconsider its proposed appointment,” the letter said.
Opposition politicians also criticized Abbott, with Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon saying his views were “deeply offensive and wrong.” The British government met the mounting criticism by insisting until Friday that no decision had been made about membership of the trade body.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said before the announcement that he did not agree with all of Abbott’s sentiments, “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.”
“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,” he said. Led by International Trade Secretary Liz Truss, the newly relaunched Board of Trade aims to champion Britain's importing and exporting businesses and promote open trade around the world. Besides Abbott, its advisers include government ministers, entrepreneurs and academics.
The U.K. is seeking to boost trade with countries around the world in the wake of its departure from the European Union.