Tory equalities chief Caroline Nokes eviscerates new UK trade boss Tony Abbott over ‘awful’ anti-LGBT+ views

Trans people react to women and equalities committee's new trans inquiry

Caroline Nokes, the Conservative chair of the Commons women and equalities committee, has condemned the rumoured appointment of Australia’s anti-LGBT+ former prime minister Tony Abbott as a UK trade official.

It was reported last week that Abbott – who is reviled by LGBT+ campaigners in Australia for fighting tooth-and-nail to stop equal marriage despite his own sister being gay – is set to serve as president of the UK Board of Trade.

The reported appointment has led to scrutiny of his hardline beliefs about climate change and coronavirus, as well as his well-documented views about LGBT+ people and women.

Tory MP Caroline Nokes says Tony Abbott appointment is ‘awful’ idea.

Appearing on the BBC’s Politics Live on Tuesday, Nokes said: “This is such a bad idea I’m not sure I can come up with words for how awful I think it is.

“[Labour shadow trade secretary] Emily Thornberry and I seldom agree on anything, but she’s right. He’s a misogynist he has very poor views on LGBT+ rights, and I just don’t think this is a man who should be anywhere near our Board of Trade.

“Is he the sort of man I want to be representing us globally? No.”

Former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott was blasted by Caroline Nokes

Former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott was blasted by Caroline Nokes

Her comments were praised by Labour MPs including Emily Thornberry, who has hit out at Abbott’s “long track record of sexist, sleazy and misogynist behaviour”.

The government’s trade secretary Liz Truss, who also happens to be minister for women and equalities, has made some feeble attempts to defend Abbott’s appointment, telling ITV in a tense interview last week that his views are “irrelevant”.

She volunteered: “But what I’d say about Tony Abbott is he’s a former prime minister of Australia. Australia is a key ally of the United Kingdom, and he has done a very good job in areas like trade.”

Asked about his views at a think tank event on Tuesday, Abbott rebuffed his critics.

He said: “I’ve been a member of parliament for a long time, I was in public life for a long time… inevitably, if you have convictions you’ll draw criticism. But if you want to get things done.

“You need people with convictions. If you lack convictions, it’s very hard to get things done now.

“Obviously I can comment on any position which is not yet official. But certainly, I think that it’s in Britain’s interest and it’s in Australia’s interests that this [a] free trade deal will be done as quickly as possible.”

Tony Abbott led the anti-gay marriage movement in Australia.

The former prime minister blocked free votes in parliament on same-sex marriage during his time in office – 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.”

A mural by artist Scott Marsh depicting former Prime Minister Tony Abbott marrying himself

A mural by artist Scott Marsh depicting former prime minister Tony Abbott marrying himself (Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

A low point in the campaign saw Abbott 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.

Despite a crushing defeat that saw 61.6 per cent of Australians back equal marriage, Abbott did not turn up for a parliamentary vote on the eventual same-sex marriage bill. The politician instead attempted to foster ties with an anti-LGBT+ hate group in the United States, telling anti-LGBT+ lobbyists that their movement “should continue” beyond the marriage vote.

Aside from equal marriage, Abbott also cheered on the destruction of the LGBT-inclusive Safe Schools anti-bullying programme, insisting that the “terrible” effort was “social engineering programme dressed up as anti-bullying.”