‘Terminator’ Tony Abbott: The ex-Australia PM set for top UK trade role

British-born and Australian-bred Tony Abbott had made waves in Australian politics long before becoming prime minister.

Mr Abbott, who is expected to be made joint president of the relaunched Board of Trade, spent several years studying for the priesthood after finishing his education at Sydney and Oxford but admitted he was a “bit of a square peg in a round hole”.

Jobs as a journalist and political adviser followed before a by-election saw him join parliament in 1994 in the affluent beachside Sydney seat of Warringah for the right-of-centre Liberal Party.

Under John Howard, Mr Abbott was promoted to the Cabinet as employment and health & ageing minister but left over his party’s position on an emissions trading scheme which would ultimately see the ousting of Malcolm Turnbull.

Prince Harry and Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott attend a memorial service at Lone Pine, Eceabat, Turkey
Harry and Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott attend a memorial service at Lone Pine, Eceabat, Turkey (Tristan Fewings/PA)

Mr Abbott, who was born in Lambeth, south London, but moved to Australia at the age of two, saw off Mr Turnbull in a leadership election by just one vote in 2009. Revenge would come six years later.

His forthright views and ways of expressing them led to a litany of nicknames – The Terminator, Dr No, Tear-down Tony, the Mad Monk – and he maintained particular focus on abortion and illegal migration by boat.

He was famously the subject of a scathing speech by then prime minister Julia Gillard who told him: “I will not be lectured about sexism and misogyny by this man, I will not.”

But a convincing win in the 2013 election saw Mr Abbott take the top job, promising to create a military-led patrol against asylum seekers arriving by boat and increasing military engagement in the Middle East.

Mr Abbott was Prime Minister when the MH17 downing took place, and said he would confront Vladimir Putin
Tony Abbott was prime minister when Flight MH17 was downed, and said he would confront Vladimir Putin (Dutch Safety Board/PA)

The downing of Flight MH17 happened during Mr Abbott’s premiership, leading him to threaten to “shirtfront” Vladimir Putin over the Malaysia Airlines plane at the Brisbane-hosted G20 – a term plucked straight from Australian rules football for a head-on charge aimed at bumping an opponent to the ground.

A staged photo of the pair ahead of the summit showed them cuddling koalas.

And amid a backdrop of poor polling – and the general cut-throat nature of Australian politics – just two years into the top job, Mr Abbott was subjected to a leadership vote proposed by Mr Turnbull, who comfortably won.

Mr Abbott spent his later years in parliament on the backbenches, occasionally criticising his party’s positions and backing the UK to thrive in a post-Brexit world.

At the 2019 election he lost his seat to Olympic bronze medallist Alpine skier and barrister Zali Steggall.

In a column for the Telegraph in February, days after Britain left the EU, he wrote: “It was possible to mount an argument for Britain to remain in the EU prior to the 2016 referendum but it wasn’t possible to sustain that argument subsequently while claiming to remain a democrat.

“Regardless of their prior position on the EU, with the Brexit general election behind them, it seems that all but the most die-hard Remainers have now concluded that there’s no turning back and that Britain has to make the most of it.

“Rest assured that Britain’s friends are cheering you on as you reclaim your destiny as a sovereign nation; a friend to all but beholden to none.”

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