4 min read
Liz Truss has hit back at Labour over criticism of Tony Abbott’s planned appointment to a Government role, bringing up John McDonnell’s “lynching” comments and attacking the party for never electing a female leader.
The Trade Secretary accused the opposition of “absolute hypocrisy” after the Government was dragged into a row over the former Australian PM’s past comments on women and gay people.
The commons row erupted after Health Secretary Matt Hancock tried to defend Mr Abbott, who is also accused of being a climate change denier, on Sky News, by saying “he’s also an expert in trade”.
Ms Truss was challenged over the reported move to add him to the UK’s Board of Trade in the Commons by Labour MP Ruth Cadbury.
She asked: “Could the trade secretary not find an expert for the role, but who also demonstrates positive British values – and by the way, is not a climate change denier?”
The Cabinet minister responded: “I think it’s absolute hypocrisy to hear this type of argument from the Labour Party.
“Until recently, they had a shadow Chancellor who the honourable lady supported, who called for the lynching of one of my female colleagues and never apologised for it.”
The comment was in reference to John McDonnell, who repeated a suggestion at a meeting that Tory MP Esther Mcvey should be “lynched”, and called the then-disabilities minister “a stain on humanity”.
She added: “This is a party that has never elected a female leader, despite having the opportunity time and time again.
“And the reality is they would rather virtue signal and indulge in tokenism rather than take real action to improve the lives of women.”
And in response to another question from the opposition benches about the ex-Aussie PM’s suitability to the envoy role, Ms Truss dismissed any concern by saying: “The reality is that those on the left of politics always are intolerant of anyone who doesn’t agree with them, but are prepared to defend anything from their own friends.”
Earlier in the debate, international trade minister Greg Hands also defended Mr Abbott after his attitude on environmental standards was questioned by Labour.
He said: “No appointments have been confirmed, but personally I welcome the fact that a former prime minister of Australia is willing to help this country out.
“I think we should welcome his interest and welcome the endeavours that he has potential to make on all our behalves.”
Labour leader Keir Starmer told Sky News on Thursday he had “real concerns” about the potential appointment.
“I don’t think he’s the right person for the job, and if I was Prime Minister I wouldn’t appoint him,” he said.
Meanwhile, shadow minister Jess Phillips told PoliticsHome Mr Abbott’s involvement in such a senior role showed the Government did not “care about misogyny at all”.
She added: “Tony Abbott is an embarrassment to the UK government and his attitudes and their acceptance of it just shows that they have no interest in making policy that is for anyone other than people like them.
“Also, what discernable skills does he have exactly?”
Her Labour frontbench colleague Peter Kyle said it revealed ministers “don’t even pretend not to embrace bigots anymore”.
And Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said Mr Abbott, who has said he feels “a bit threatened” by homosexuality and opposed same-sex marriage, is not fit to be a trade envoy.
“Tony Abbott, before these comments, is a misogynist, he’s a sexist, he’s a climate change denier,” she told Sky News.
“Trade, in many respects, should reflect our values – there should be ethics attached to any country’s trading profile.”