Lib Dems’ new leader and ex-Aus PM Abbot lined up for major Brexit trade role

#Brexit special section Downing Street Westminster

Sir Ed Davey has been elected as the Liberal Democrats new leader while reports persist that former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott is being lined up for a major role in UK trade.

Abbott – described as a “Trump-worshipping misogynist” and climate-change denier – is set to be appointed to a major role on Britain’s board of trade which will advise the government on post-Brexit trade arrangements.

While that appointment has not be denied or confirmed the Lib Dems have selected their new leader Davey with a huge show of support from party members.

Acting leader Davey took 63.5% of the vote to see off the challenge of Layla Moran (36.5%) and secure the largest winning margin in a leadership campaign since 1988 when Paddy Ashdown won 71%.

He becomes the fifth leader in just five years to take over what the Yorkshire Post calls “one of the most invidious poison chalices in politics – heading the Liberal Democrats.”

An equally unenviable task – if one forgets about the compensation (luxury travel, accommodation, dining, financial packages, ambassadorial receptions, international influence, etc) – will be securing the UK’s post-Brexit trade deals given the difficulties in securing one with its closest trading partner. Despite Liam Fox’s analysis and prediction that a deal with the EU would be the “easiest in human history”, it has very much proved otherwise. Which has caused many eyebrows to be raised by continued reports that a highly controversially former-PM of Australia is to be entrusted with securing Britain’s international trade deals.

‘Forthright Aussie to bang the Brexit drum for Britain’

Downing Street has repeatedly declined to comment on the story, first reported by Rupert Murdoch’s the Sun. It claims Abbott “is to be unveiled as Britain’s new trade supremo” and states the “forthright Aussie has been appointed joint President of Britain’s relaunched Board of Trade” alongside trade secretary Liz Truss.

The analysis is that Abbot is part of Johnson’s “drive to get a number of ‘global’ friends to bang the drum from Brexit Britain” and the paper quotes a “Whitehall source” seeming to confirm his appointment, saying: “We are delighted to have him on board.”

‘Staggering appointment of offensive, leering, cantankerous, climate change-denying, Trump-worshipping misogynist’

Shadow trade secretary Emily Thornberry is scathing about Abbott’s potential appointment to a senior trade role on the UK’s board of trade.

“I just find this appointment absolutely staggering,” said Thornberry. “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.”

Former Australian high commissioner to the UK Mike Rahn said the appointment of Abbott would make “about as much sense as Australia asking Gavin Williamson to run its education system.”

Rahn held his position in London when Abbot was PM between 2013 and 2015.

Davey – ‘Wake up and smell the coffee’

Sir Ed Davey has been acting leader since Jo Swinson – self-proclaimed ‘Britain’s next PM’ – lost her own seat in the December 2019 general election. The Lib Dems won just 12% of the vote and in the fall-out of yet another electoral disaster, Davey told the party to “wake up and smell the coffee”.

He was first elected as MP for Kingston and Surbiton in 1997, served in David Cameron’s coalition cabinet, lost his seat in 2015 and retook it in 2017 after Theresa May’s surprise snap election. Davey has promised a “national listening project” to make the Lib Dems “relevant again” and in his acceptance speech said the party has to “face the facts of three disappointing” general elections.

“”The truth is, voters don’t believe the Liberal Democrats want to help ordinary people get on in life,” Davey said. “It is time for us to start listening. And as leader, I have got that message. I am listening now.”

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