Speaking to TalkRADIO, the former Brexit Party MEP claimed people should not be too “lily-livered” about Tony Abbott’s controversial past statements and embrace the appointment of a man that has a lot of experience doing trade deals. Ms Phillips reminded her radio listeners the former Australian Prime Minister has always been a huge supporter of Brexit and of Britain’s trading powers as an independent nation.
She said: “At last can I just say. It seems to me this Government has been the government of press releases and reactions to what the media wanted and looking at metrics and public opinion and polling and data rather than having a strong strategy and conviction about where they want to go and what they want to do.
“So actually, it’s quite a relief to see that they’re being robust about their decision to appoint Tony Abbott.
“And I don’t think it is a problem with someone like Tony Abbot heading up our trade envoy.
“Because the man has a wealth of experience in doing trade deals on behalf of his own nation.
“He understands Brexit, he’s always been a big advocate for Brexit and for Britain’s place in the world as an independent trading nation.
“I don’t think we need to be too lily-livered about something that might be regarded as problematic because it’s not politically correct that he might have said years ago.”
The controversial former Australian leader said he is looking forward to contributing his “expertise” in global commerce to help Britain in his new role as adviser to the UK Board of Trade.
Mr Abbott’s appointment has sparked a heated reaction in some quarters, with critics saying he is well known for holding misogynistic and homophobic views, as well as drawing attention to his scepticism on climate change.
After Prime Minister Boris Johnson came out in support of the 62-year-old, Mr Abbott – who led Australia from 2013-15 – said he was “only too keen” to help the UK and looked forward to helping facilitate trade deals “between Britain and other countries, including Australia”.
“A UK-Australia trade deal, maximising the movement of goods, services and people is clearly in the best interests of both our countries,” Mr Abbott said in a statement on Twitter.
“It’s important for the wider world that Britain make the most of its post-Brexit opportunities and I am proud to be playing a part.”
“My government finalised trade deals between Australia and China, Japan and Korea. I’m looking forward to bringing that expertise to bear as Britain works towards mutually beneficial improvements with its major trading partners.”
Labour shadow trade secretary Emily Thornberry said Mr Abbott was “not the right person to advise the UK on trade policy” due to his “history of offensive comments” and lack of experience.
She told Times Radio on Saturday: “He’s never been involved in detailed trade negotiations, he thinks that issues like climate change and workers’ rights are just not important and during the two years that he was prime minister of Australia he was personally responsible for killing off Australia’s car industry.
“When he arrived, there were 200,000 cars that were being made in Australia and by the time he left … the three companies had left.”
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Ms Thornberry added: “What we need to have surely on the Board of Trade is people who can negotiate carefully and in detail, and diplomatically. And Tony Abbott does not have that character.”
The appointment of Mr Abbott, who has also said coronavirus restrictions should be lifted, seems to have caused divisions even among his fellow Board of Trade appointees.
Anne Boden, founder of the online-only bank Starling, tweeted to say she was “pleased to be advising the Board of Trade” and said it was “important that we have challenging voices” speaking to ministers.
But the financial technology expert added that she supported diversity and “so did this woman”, linking to a 2012 speech by another former Australian prime minister, Julia Gillard, in which she accused Mr Abbott of being a misogynist in the country’s equivalent of the House of Commons.
Wales-born Ms Gillard quoted the then-leader of the opposition as having asked during a discussion: “What if men are by physiology or temperament more adapted to exercise authority or to issue command?”