Former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott is set to be appointed unpaid business adviser to the UK government, according to the BBC.
Boris Johnson has dismissed claims Mr Abbott is unfit to play the role on past comments about women and LGBT people.
The British Prime Minister said he “did not agree with these sentiments”.
But he said he “couldn’t expect” to agree with everyone who works with the government.
He added that Mr Abbott was elected by the “great liberal democratic nation of Australia”, adding: “I think that speaks for itself”.
It is understood that he will not play any direct role in future trade negotiations, but rather advise ministers and officials, as part of an expert group.
Labor leader Sir Keir Starmer said he had “real concerns” and “would not appoint” Mr Abbott if he were prime minister.
Mr Abbott, who was Prime Minister of Australia from 2013 to 2015, negotiated free trade agreements with Japan, China and South Korea.
Shadow International Development Secretary Emily Thornberry issued a statement opposing the appointment, saying: “We must judge Tony Abbott not only on his contemptible personal history of offensive statements and views, but also on his equally dismal professional record. ”
A group of equality activists – including actor Sir Ian McKellen and Doctor Who writer Russell T. Davies – have written an open letter against the appointment of Mr Abbott.
The letter, which highlights Mr Abbott’s opposition to same-sex marriage, says: “It is a man who described abortion as’ the easy way ‘and suggested that men can be’ by physiology. or temperament more apt to exercise authority or issue commands. ”
“For all these reasons and more, this man is not fit to represent the UK as our trade envoy,” he added.
But Mr Abbott’s sister, Christine Forster, defended him against allegations of misogyny and homophobia.
“As a woman who has always been a part of his life and who came out as gay in my early 40s, I know beyond dispute that Tony is neither of those things,” he said. she wrote on Twitter.
“In reality, he is a man of great conviction and great intellect; a shameless curator but with great compassion, respect for others and an indelible sense of doing what is right. ”
She added that he would be an “exceptional trade envoy for the UK”.
Mr Abbott’s position is said to be as a member of the UK Board of Trade, a panel that is being set up to advise International Trade Secretary Liz Truss.
On Thursday, Health Secretary Matt Hancock was asked on Sky News about concerns surrounding Mr Abbott’s attitude towards women and homosexuality.
Mr Hancock said he did not think Mr Abbott was homophobic or misogynist, and when pushed he added: “He is also a trade expert”.
The Labor Party has also written to the government urging it not to appoint Mr Abbott, saying this would be “totally unacceptable” and “instead seek an expert with views on women and equality that better reflect our British values” .
Labor MPs Chris Bryant and Wes Streeting accused Mr Hancock of hypocrisy after the Health Secretary tweeted about the ‘fantastic’ new LGBT inclusive relations and sex education program being introduced in schools.
Mr Bryant said, “So why on earth would you accept Tony Abbott as a trade envoy?” “. Mr Streeting tweeted: “Matt, we know you are a social liberal with a decent record of voting on LGBT equality. This is why your defense of Tony Abbott was even more nauseating. ”
In the Commons Thursday, Liz Truss – who heads UK post-Brexit trade talks globally – was asked about the possible appointment.
She said: “I think it is absolute hypocrisy to hear this type of argument from the Labor Party.
“It’s a party that has never elected a woman leader despite having the opportunity time and time again.
“The reality is that they would rather signal virtue and indulge in symbolism rather than take concrete action to improve women’s lives. “