Matt Hancock has defended a plan to hand a senior trade role to former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott despite concerns about his attitude towards women and homosexuality.
Questioned on Sky News, the Health Secretary said he does not believe that Mr Abbott is homophobic or misogynistic, and, when pressed, added: “He’s also an expert in trade.”
Mr Abbott is in talks to become joint president of the relaunched Board of Trade but critics have raised numerous concerns, including over his belief that coronavirus restrictions should be lifted.
He has previously said that he feels “a bit threatened” by homosexuality, opposed same-sex marriage, and was accused of misogyny by fellow former Australian prime minister Julia Gillard.
Mr Hancock, wearing an NHS badge with the LGBTQ rainbow flag, was pressed over the suitability of Mr Abbott, who led his nation from 2013 until he was ousted by his own party in 2015.
“I bow to nobody in my support for everybody to love who they love, whoever that is,” he said.
“But we need to have the best experts in the world working in their field and the former prime minister of Australia has a huge amount of experience.”
Mr Hancock said “I don’t think that’s true” when pressed about allegations of homophobia and misogyny.
But Sky’s Kay Burley said “He’s a homophobe and he’s a misogynist”, to which Mr Hancock replied: “He’s also an expert in trade.”
Opposition MPs were highly critical of the defence, with shadow minister Peter Kyle saying ministers “don’t even pretend not to embrace bigots anymore”.
Labour MP Marie Rimmer added: “Surely there’s trade experts who aren’t homophobic and misogynists? Britain deserves better than Tony Abbott representing us on the world stage.”