McKellen leads chorus for Abbott to be barred from British trade job

London: Actor Sir Ian McKellen is leading calls for British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to reconsider appointing Tony Abbott to Britain's Board of Trade, because of the former Australian prime minister's views on abortion, climate change, gays and women.

McKellen, who played Gandalf in Peter Jackson's remake of the hit trilogy The Lord of the Rings, released an open letter on Friday, calling on Britain's arts community to sign up after nearly a fortnight of speculation that Abbott is poised to become a trade envoy for Britain.

There is speculation that former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott is poised to become a trade envoy for Britain after Brexit.Credit:Getty Images

The letter is signed by McKellen and a string of prominent gay and lesbian figures in Britain, including Lord Cashman and Lisa Power, fellow founders of the Stonewall LGBT rights charity, and screenwriter Russell T. Davies who revived Doctor Who and wrote Queer as Folk.

"As committed equality and environmental activists, we the undersigned urge the government to reconsider its proposed appointment of Tony Abbott as a trade envoy to the UK Board of Trade," the letter says.

"This is a man who described abortion as 'the easy way out', and suggested that men may be 'by physiology or temperament more adapted to exercise authority or to issue command'.

"This is a man who described himself as 'threatened by homosexuality', and vigorously campaigned against the ultimately successful referendum in Australia to allow same-sex couples to marry.

Ian McKellen as Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings.

"This is a man who has suggested that climate change is 'probably doing good', and who downplayed the link between extreme weather and bushfires at the height of this year's Australian bushfire crisis.

"For all these reasons and more besides, this man is not fit to be representing the UK as our trade envoy.

"If the government is truly committed to an outward-looking future for Britain, to tackling climate change, and to creating an equal society for all, it should reconsider its proposed appointment of Tony Abbott," the letter concludes.

McKellen called for more signatures.

The list of those who have signed already is notable as it includes figures who rarely speak out on politics when it does not relate to their particular sector, including Ian Green from the Terrence Higgins Trust, Britain's leading HIV and sexual health charity.

It also includes a Tory peer, Lord Hayward, who has become the second Conservative to voice disquiet about the appointment, which the British government has still not confirmed.

Australian actor David Wenham, who co-starred with McKellen in The Lord of the Rings, told The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, "Britain must feel very despondent if their government deems that there is no one in Britain capable of representing them re trade. And then the insult of choosing Tony Abbott, noted primarily for trading in misogyny and homophobia."

Abbott wrapped up his 10-day trip to Europe on Friday and was on his way back to Australia where he said he would go into hotel quarantine.

He received an exemption from the ban on Australians travelling abroad to visit British ministers, attend a golfing tournament and give speeches on China as well as one on Australia's response to the coronavirus pandemic.

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