When Boris met Tony…

When one ‘desperate’ PM appoints a ‘gaffe-prone’ ‘misogynist’ ex-PM to preside over the ‘new’ Board of Trade, the weird and unusual just got weirder, says Unite AGS Tony Burke

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In what smacks of another act of desperation PM Boris Johnson is preparing to appoint discredited former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott as joint president of the re-launched Board of Trade, (first created in 1622 “to protect merchants’ complaints and protect the national interests”).

Johnson wants Abbott to ‘bang the drum’ and act as ‘a catalyst’ for international trade negotiations.

The gaffe prone former Aussie PM, famous for his  cringe-worthy comments (read  here)  will be ‘joint president’ together with International Trade Secretary Liz Truss – undoubtedly a move designed to elbow out Ms Truss who has failed to deliver much in the way of trade deals – especially the much vaunted US trade deal.

She recently got involved in a row over Stilton cheese in a simple ‘roll over’ from the EU-Japan trade deal after the Japanese insisted the UK could not expect to be as good a deal as the EU deal.

Weird advice

Abbott is seen as a Brextremist, who has favoured no deal from the outset. He has been given to handing out weird advice on Brexit including ignoring favoured nation status, and hoping that the EU will reciprocate with an offer from the UK of no tariffs on EU goods.

Last year Abbott, who was ousted as PM by his own party and dumped by his own constituents in the Aussie general election, wrote a pro-Brexit article in the Spectator based on his experience as Australian PM and their trading relationships with the EU – which is mostly based on agriculture and selling coal, gold and oil seeds to the EU – all involving ships being 25 days at sea.

According to one senior Aussie trade union official who Unite has a good working relationship with, Abbott is loathed even by his own Liberal Party, and on his watch the Australian automotive industry closed. Our source went onto say, “He has no negotiating skills to speak of, is a complete novice on world trade as well as being a climate change denier and a misogynist.”

Labour’s shadow secretary of state for international trade, Emily Thornberry responded to the news saying, “Any way you look at it, this is an absolutely staggering appointment. On a personal level, it is shameful that Boris Johnson thinks this offensive, aggressive, leering, gaffe-prone misogynist is the right person to represent our country overseas.

“And on a professional level, this is someone with no hands-on experience of negotiating trade agreements, who denies the climate change that we believe should be at the heart of our trade policy, and who clearly has no concept of the importance of Britain’s trade with the EU. It’s yet more breath taking incompetence from a government that has turned it into an art-form.”

Another bad Boris blunder?

And as Emily Thornberry refers to Abbott’s views on climate change it could prove to be that Johnson may well have blundered into another badly thought through decision.

In 2021 the UK is hosting the COP26 Climate Conference in Glasgow. Hiring a man who called climate change “absolute crap”, likened climate action to “killing goats to appease volcano gods” and repealed Australia’s carbon price, looks like another appalling decision.

As my union comrade down under told me, “Abbott should fit right into Johnson and Cummings’ Britain.” I’m sure it won’t take us long to see just how right that view is.

By Tony Burke, Unite assistant general secretary  @TonyBurke2010

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