UK urged to drop ex-Australia PM Abbott from trade envoy job

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Tony Abbott

FILE – In this Monday, Aug. 20, 2018 file photo, former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott listens to lawmakers speak in Parliament in Canberra, Australia. Prominent equality and environmental activists, including “Lord of the Rings” star Ian McKellen have urged the British government to drop plans to make former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott a U.K. trade advisor. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government faced growing opposition Friday, Sept. 4, 2020 over reports it will appoint Abbott, who led a conservative Australian government between 2013 and 2015, to the U.K.’s Board of Trade. (AP Photo/Rod McGuirk, file)

LONDON (AP) — Prominent equality and environmental activists, including “Lord of the Rings” star Ian McKellen, have urged the British government to drop plans to make former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott a U.K. trade adviser.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government faced growing criticism Friday over reports it will appoint Abbott, who led a conservative Australian government between 2013 and 2015, to the U.K.’s Board of Trade.

Opponents cite Abbott’s 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 In power, his government repealed a carbon tax paid by polluting Australian industries.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 signed by activists who included 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 have also criticized Abbott, with Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon saying his views were “deeply offensive and wrong.”

The British government has defended Abbott’s trade expertise, but says no decision has been made about membership of the trade body. Abbott has been in London in recent days and said he has spoken to the government about “a role.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Friday there would be an announcement “in due course.”

Johnson said 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.

The U.K. is seeking to boost trade with countries around the world in the wake of its departure from the European Union.

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