Tony Abbott, the controversial former Australian prime minister, has been confirmed as a trade adviser to Boris Johnson’s government, despite public reservations from Conservative and opposition MPs.
The Department for International Trade announced on Friday that Mr Abbott would join its Board of Trade — alongside several other notable economists and politicians.
His appointment was first reported last week but resulted in a fierce backlash due to his socially conservative views and political record in Australia.
His time as prime minister of Australia was punctuated by controversy due to his opposition to measures to tackle climate change, his opposition to gay marriage, and a hardline immigration policy, turning back asylum boats and locking up refugees on remote Pacific islands.
Leading British opposition figures have called on Mr Johnson to reconsider. Keir Starmer, leader of the Labour party, said he had “real concerns” about Mr Abbott’s appointment. Caroline Nokes, a Tory MP and former minister, said “this is such a bad idea, I’m not sure I can come up with words for how awful I think it is”.
But Liz Truss, international trade secretary, said that the new Board of Trade would make the case for free trade across the UK and further afield.
“At a time of increased protectionism and global insecurity, it’s vital that the UK is a strong voice for open markets and that we play a meaningful role in reshaping global trading rules alongside like-minded countries,” Ms Truss said.
Explaining Mr Abbott’s appointment, one Department for International Trade official said: “Tony was chosen partly because he believes in Britain’s values — of open markets, liberal democracy, and rules-based free trade.”
When quizzed about Mr Abbott’s rightwing views on same-sex marriage and climate change, Mr Johnson said on Friday he did “not agree with those sentiments” but added that he was elected by the “great, liberal democratic nation of Australia” which “speaks for itself”.
The advisers to the Board of Trade will engage with businesses and industry groups in an attempt to boost trade, but will not have any direct role in striking trade agreements.
Ms Truss will lead the board, which has existed in various forms since 1621, while Marcus Fysh, the Conservative MP for Yeovil, has been appointed as the deputy president.
Other members of the Board of Trade including Oxford economist Linda Yueh, former Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan, ex-Labour Cabinet minister Patricia Hewitt, entrepreneur Anne Boden and Karen Betts, chief executive of the Scottish Whisky Association.