Government urged to ditch ‘homophobe’ Tony Abbott by Ian McKellen, Russell T Davies and leading LGBT+ activists

Tony Abbott

Ian McKellen, Russell T Davies and other leading LGBT+ activists have called on the British government to scrap plans to give Tony Abbott a top trade job.

The former Australian prime minister is expected to be appointed to the British Board of Trade, where he would advise on the UK’s post-Brexit trade deals.

However, the all-but-confirmed decision has faced backlash from human rights groups such as Amnesty International because of Abbott’s past offensive comments about women and gay people, as well his history of denying the climate emergency.

Now, some of the UK’s leading LGBT+ activists and environmental campaigners have come together to jointly urge the government to row back its plans.

“As committed equality and environmental activists, we the undersigned urge the government to reconsider its proposed appointment of Tony Abbott as a trade envoy to the UK Board of Trade,” a letter jointly written by activists reads.

“This is a man who described abortion as ‘the easy way out’, and suggested that men may be ‘by physiology or temperament more adapted to exercise authority or to issue command’.

“This is a man who described himself as ‘threatened by homosexuality’, and vigorously campaigned against the ultimately successful referendum in Australia to allow same-sex couples to marry.”

The letter was organised and signed by Rachel McClelland, a filmmaker and founder of Planet Shine.

As well as McKellen and Davies, it was also co-signed by Stonewall co-founders Michael Cashman and Lisa Power, Pride in London co-chairs Alison Camps and Michael Salter-Church, Peter Tatchell, Diva magazine publisher Linda Riley and many others.


“This is a man who has suggested that climate change is ‘probably doing good’, and who downplayed the link between extreme weather and bushfires at the height of this year’s Australian bushfire crisis,” the letter continues.

“For all these reasons and more besides, this man is not fit to be representing the UK 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 of Tony Abbott.”

Tony Abbott has a long history of making anti-LGBT+ comments – but Matt Hancock and Liz Truss have leapt to his defence.

The letter comes following significant backlash and after health secretary Matt Hancock defended Abbott’s proposed appointment in a bungled interview with Sky News’ Kay Burley.

When Burley put it to Hancock on Thursday morning (September 3) that Abbott  is a “homophobe and misogynist”, the embattled health chief replied: “He’s also an expert on trade!”

Equalities minister Liz Truss utilised a similar non-defence on August 28, saying questions on Abbott’s past comments are “irrelevant”. 

Politicians from across the spectrum have condemned the rumoured appointment, with Labour leader Keir Starmer saying he had “real concerns”.

“I don’t think he’s the right person for the job,” Starmer said Thursday, “and if I was prime minister I wouldn’t appoint him.”

Scottish first minster Nicola Sturgoen called Abbott a “sexist, misogynist, climate change denier” and labelled his comments “disgraceful” on Friday morning’s Kay Burley (August 4).

Emily Thornberry, shadow trade secretary, called him a “Trump-worshipping misogynist” and has reportedly written to Truss with 25 questions regarding Abbott, including whether the rumoured job was advertised following government guidelines.

“Where a very high-profile and – if we are frank – controversial external individual looks set to be appointed to a government role of immense importance, and the public are naturally eager to understand not just why but how,” she wrote, according to The Guardian.

Abbott has a long history of making hateful and bigoted comments about gay people and women.

In a 2010 television interview, Abbott said he felt “a bit threatened, as so many people do” by homosexuality.

His comments sparked fury among Australia’s LGBT+ community, but he doubled down on his position in a later television interview, he said: “There is no doubt that [homosexuality] challenges, if you like, orthodox notions of the right order of things.”

Abbott went on to fight tirelessly agains the introduction of same-sex marriage in Australia, but his efforts failed – the public voted in favour of giving queer people the right to marry.