Mooted UK trade role for Aus­tralia’s for­mer PM is lat­est shot in the post-Brexit cul­ture war

If true, Ab­bott seems an odd choice given his views on cli­mate change and gen­der, says Lizzy Bur­den

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Business -

If for­mer Aus­tralian prime min­is­ter Tony Ab­bott is to be ap­pointed joint pres­i­dent of the Board of Trade, it would make “about as much sense as Aus­tralia ask­ing Gavin Wil­liamson to run its ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem”.

That’s ac­cord­ing to Mike Rann, who was Aus­tralian high com­mis­sioner to the UK when Ab­bott was in of­fice from 2013 to 2015.

The De­part­ment of In­ter­na­tional Trade (DIT) bat­ted away spec­u­la­tion link­ing Ab­bott to the role, which The Sun re­ports he would share with the Liz Truss, the Trade Sec­re­tary.

DIT claims no de­ci­sion has been made on the ap­point­ment, but ac­cord­ing to The Syd­ney Morn­ing

Her­ald, Ab­bott had break­fast with Truss in Lon­don yes­ter­day, hav­ing been granted an ex­emp­tion from the Aus­tralian gov­ern­ment’s travel ban.

Scott Mor­ri­son, the cur­rent Aus­tralian premier, ap­peared to con­firm the story, telling the Aus­tralian TV net­work ABC: “Well done Boris! Good hire!” But other sources say Ab­bott would hy­po­thet­i­cally be no more than an ad­viser.

If it goes ahead, Lon­don-born Ab­bott’s mooted ar­rival is a bla­tant shot fired in the post-Brexit cul­ture war. Against a back­drop of ac­cu­sa­tions the Gov­ern­ment has a “woman prob­lem”, Ab­bott is an os­ten­si­bly odd choice as a side­kick to Truss, who is also Min­is­ter for Women and Equal­i­ties and for­mer en­vi­ron­ment sec­re­tary, given his views on gen­der and cli­mate change.

A trained priest, Ab­bott once urged sup­port for one of his fe­male Lib­eral party can­di­dates be­cause she had “a bit of sex ap­peal”, was pub­licly ac­cused of sexism by Ju­lia Gil­lard as Aus­tralian prime min­is­ter in 2012 af­ter a string of com­ments he made about her be­ing child­less and un­mar­ried, and, when he took over from Gil­lard, ap­pointed him­self as women’s min­is­ter. He has re­ferred to the “so-called set­tled sci­ence” on cli­mate change, an up­grade from his view of it as “ab­so­lutely crap” in 2009, and in a speech in Lon­don, cred­ited global warm­ing with “prob­a­bly do­ing good”.

None the less, Ab­bott can be re­lied upon to fly the flag for Brexit, of which he has been a vo­cal cham­pion. Af­ter Par­lia­ment re­jected Theresa May’s Brexit with­drawal plan last year, Ab­bott tweeted: “What’s wrong with no deal?

Aus­tralia does $100bn a year in trade with the EU without a deal.”

That stirred Dmitry Gro­zoubin­ski, for­mer Aus­tralian trade ne­go­tia­tor at the World Trade Or­gan­i­sa­tion dur­ing the Ab­bott gov­ern­ment, to de­scribe him as “em­bar­rass­ing”. There can be lit­tle doubt No 10 is rev­el­ling in trade ex­perts’ ou­trage at ru­mours of the ap­point­ment. Many were al­ready miffed at be­ing purged from Gov­ern­ment’s trade ad­vi­sory com­mit­tees.

Emily Thorn­berry, the shadow trade sec­re­tary, said she was “dis­gusted that Boris John­son thinks this of­fen­sive, leer­ing, can­tan­ker­ous, cli­mate change-deny­ing, Trump-wor­ship­ping misog­y­nist is the right per­son to rep­re­sent our coun­try over­seas”.

“He was ousted by his own col­leagues af­ter two years in power, and kicked out of Aus­tralian pol­i­tics by his own con­stituents just last year,” she added. “They are the peo­ple who know him best, and they wanted rid of him – yet here we are, hir­ing him to ne­go­ti­ate our trade deals around the world. If it wasn’t so down­right hu­mil­i­at­ing, it would be al­most hi­lar­i­ous.”

The Board of Trade has ex­isted in var­i­ous guises since the early 17th cen­tury when it was es­tab­lished to ad­vise on mat­ters colonial, un­der its for­mal ti­tle “The Lords of the Com­mit­tee of the Privy Coun­cil ap­pointed for the con­sid­er­a­tion of all

‘What’s wrong with no deal? Aus­tralia does $100bn a year in trade with the EU without a deal’

mat­ters re­lat­ing to Trade and For­eign Plan­ta­tions”. Whether as an ad­viser or co-pres­i­dent, Ab­bott would be un­likely to be di­rectly in­volved with ne­go­ti­at­ing trade deals. His role may be more am­bas­sado­rial, pro­mot­ing “Global Bri­tain” in­ter­na­tion­ally, or per­haps more re­gion­ally fo­cused, chair­ing quar­terly meet­ings of the Board of Trade’s ad­vis­ers. How­ever, since its re­launch in 2017, the Board has met only seven times and not since May last year, in lo­ca­tions around the UK, most re­cently Belfast.

DIT’s in-tray is cer­tainly full. Talks with Canada are ex­pected to start im­mi­nently, a deal with Ja­pan – at least in prin­ci­ple – is Truss’s goal by the end of the month, and a sec­ond round of talks with Aus­tralia will start next month, while ne­go­ti­a­tions with the US and New Zealand rum­ble on.

Re­gard­less of whether Ab­bott can help to push the deals over the line, the Gov­ern­ment stir­ring ru­mours about his ap­point­ment is more likely for the ben­e­fit of on­look­ers at home.

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