There is growing criticism of the selection of former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott as a UK trade adviser who has emerged as a staunch critic of Scotland's bid for independence.

Shadow trade secretary Emily Thornberry is among the voice who has argued it was "a wrong appointment on every level".

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.

Before the 2014 Scottish independence vote, he announced supporters of Scottish independence were not "friends of freedom" or "friends of justice" in comments that were the strongest at that time by a foreign leader on the independence debate.

He dismissed the likelihood of a separate Scotland being a major global player, saying it is "hard to see how the world would be helped by an independent Scotland".

Mr Abbott's comments drew the ire of Scotland's first minister Alex Salmond, who said at the time that the Australian leader had "put his foot in it" and that his remarks were "foolish, hypocritical and offensive", since independence "does not seem to have done Australia any harm'.

Mr Abbott said: "What the Scots do is a matter for the Scots, and not for a moment do I presume to tell Scottish voters which way they should vote.

"But as a friend of Britain, as an observer from afar, it's hard to see how the world would be helped by an independent Scotland.


"I think that the people who would like to see the break-up of the United Kingdom are not the friends of justice, the friends of freedom, and the countries that would cheer at the prospect of the break-up with the United Kingdom are not the countries whose company one would like to keep."

Boris Johnson appointed Mr Abbott as an official UK trade adviser, defying widespread condemnation of the former Australian prime minister’s record of misogyny and homophobia and his views on the climate emergency.

His consideration for the role prompted criticism from opposition parties, charities and LGBT and environmental activists, is among nine external advisers appointed to the Board of Trade. The board, revived by Theresa May, is intended to help shape post-Brexit trade policy.

He once described abortion as “the easy way out” and has suggested men are better adapted than women to exercise authority, gained a reputation for epitomising what many in Australia saw as an overly macho approach to politics.

Ms Thornberry has said said Mr Abbott should be “disqualified” from the role due to “his history of offensive comments towards women, LGBT+ people, minority groups".

"It’s been going back for such a long time that frankly I think it goes to the character of the man and I don’t think we should have this sort of character representing Britain around the world,” Ms Thornberry said.

She continued: “He’s just not the right person to advise the UK on trade policy, 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.”

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.”

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.”

Other external unpaid advisers to the board include former Labour health secretary Patricia Hewitt and the former Conservative MEP and fervent Brexiter Daniel Hannan.

But the it is the choice of Mr Abbott, a controversial prime minister of Australia from 2013 until he was ousted by Liberal party colleagues in 2015, that has attracted most anger and concern.

A prior opponent of equal marriage, Mr Abbott has also suggested climate change is “probably doing good”, and likened policies to combat it to “primitive people once killing goats to appease the volcano gods”.