“As the former prime minister of Australia, obviously Mr Abbott has got a huge amount of experience,” said Hancock.
“Even if he’s a homophobic misogynist?” Burley replied.
At first Hancock blustered that he didn’t think the accusation was “true” but Burley remained firm, reminding him that she’d just read the health secretary a list of the Australian politician’s offensive remarks.
“He’s a homophobe and he’s a misogynist,” she finished.
“Well he’s also an expert in trade,” said Hancock.
Burley’s shock was evident as she asked “So one plays off against the other? Is that really what you’re saying health secretary?”
But Hancock doubled down, saying “The former prime minister of Australia is obviously an enormous expert in the field of trade. It doesn’t change my views”.
The two went back and forth, with Burley asking again if it was right to forgive all of Abbott’s hateful views for the sake of trade.
But Hancock didn’t budge, instead trying to distance himself by saying he was focused on the health brief.
“But I do know that Mr Abbott is very good and very experienced in trade," he finished.
“It’s clearly a very important decision the prime minister and the trade secretary are across”.
On Wednesday, Tory MP Caroline Noakes slammed Mr Abbott’s involvement in trade talks, saying that he was “a misogynist, he has very poor views on LGBTQ rights” and that she didn’t think he “should be anywhere near our Board of Trade”.
“He is a misogynist, he has very poor views on LGBTQ rights, I just don’t think this is a man who should be anywher… https://t.co/FZgSw8pkOc
Labour MP Emily Thornberry also criticised the decision as “humiliating”, while simultaneously questioning just how good Abbott’s supposed trade pedigree even as.
I just find this appointment absolutely staggering. On a personal level, I am disgusted that Boris Johnson thinks this offensive, leering, cantankerous, climate change-denying, Trump-worshipping misogynist is the right person to represent our country overseas.
And on a professional level, this is someone whose only experience of trade agreements was turning up to sign the treaties [the former Australian trade minister] Andrew Robb negotiated for him.
He was ousted by his own colleagues after two years in power, and kicked out of Australian politics by his own constituents just last year. They are the people who know him best, and they wanted rid of him – yet here we are, hiring him to negotiate our trade deals around the world. If it wasn’t so downright humiliating, it would be almost hilarious.