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4 September 2020

Tony Abbott is “not fit to represent the UK”, celebrities write in open letter

Ian McKellen, Russell T Davies and a Conservative peer join calls against the government's prospective appointment of the former Australian prime minister as a UK trade envoy. 

By Ailbhe Rea

Tony Abbott is “not fit to be representing the UK as our trade envoy”, celebrities including the actor Ian McKellen and the screenwriter Russell T Davies have said in an open letter to the government, as pressure builds over the prospective appointment of the former Australian prime minister to the UK Board of Trade.

A long list of celebrities and campaigners, now joined by the Conservative peer Robert Hayward, have urged the goverment to reconsider the prospective appointment. Citing his comments about gender equality and abortion, his vigorous campaigning against the successful same-sex marriage referendum in Australia, and his description of climate change as “probably doing good”, the letter says such views are incompatible with a role representing an “outward-looking Britain”.

The possible appointment has been the basis of uncomfortable interviews for cabinet ministers Liz Truss and Matt Hancock in recent days, as they seek to distance themselves from Abbott’s stated positions while making the case for his potential value in securing a trade deal with Australia. The government has yet to confirm any appointments.

The full letter is below.

As committed equality and environmental activists, we the undersigned urge the government to reconsider its proposed appointment of Tony Abbott as a trade envoy to the UK Board of Trade. This is a man who described abortion as “the easy way out”, and suggested that men may be “by physiology or temperament more adapted to exercise authority or to issue command”. This is a man who described himself as “threatened by homosexuality”, and vigorously campaigned against the ultimately successful referendum in Australia to allow same-sex couples to marry. This is a man who has suggested that climate change is “probably doing good”, and who downplayed the link between extreme weather and bushfires at the height of this year’s Australian bushfire crisis.

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For all these reasons and more besides, this man is not fit to be representing the UK as our trade envoy. If the government is truly committed to an outward-looking future for Britain, to tackling climate change, and to creating an equal society for all, it should reconsider its proposed appointment of Tony Abbott.

Rachel McClelland, film-maker and founder of Planet Shine (letter organiser)

Lord Hayward, Conservative peer at the House of Lords

Sir Ian McKellen CH, actor and Stonewall founder

Russell T Davies, screenwriter and producer

Lord Cashman CBE, former MEP and Stonewall founder

Michael Salter-Church MBE, co-chair of Pride in London

Alison Camps, co-chair of Pride in London

Peter Tatchell, director of Peter Tatchell Foundation 

Lisa Power MBE, campaigner and Stonewall founder

Linda Riley, publisher of DIVA Magazine 

Anthony Watson, entrepreneur, philanthropist and LGBT rights advocate

Paul Roberts OBE, chief executive of the LGBT+ Consortium 

Lucy Siegle, environmental journalist and broadcaster

Ian Green, chief executive of the Terrence Higgins Trust

Professor Claire Parkinson, co-director Centre for Human Animal Studies 

Sir Nick Partridge OBE, sexual health campaigner

Alan Watson Featherstone, founder of Trees for Life

Lisa Merrick-Lawless, co-founder of Purpose Disruptors

Traci Lewis, co-founder of Catalyse Change CIC

John Higginson, co-founder of Nature 2030

Rose Stokes, freelance journalist and columnist, Metro

Ethan Spibey, LGBT activist and founder, FreedomToDonate

Dale Vince, founder of Ecotricity

Jarvis Smith, co-founder of My Green Pod and PEA Awards 

Susie Green, chief executive of Mermaids