Former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott is rumoured to have joined the UK’s Board of Trade.
The Sun reports that Prime Minister Boris Johnson has asked Abbott to become the joint president of the government body as part of the effort to drum up post-Brexit trade deals for the UK.
The government has yet to make a formal announcement. Australian Attorney-General Christian Porter said former cabinet ministers had to register as foreign agents under the foreign interest rules.
“It is up to each individual to determine whether or not their circumstances meets the registration requirements,” Porter told reporters on Wednesday. “All former cabinet ministers and members of parliament receive information outlining registration requirements.”
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Abbott was a “good hire”, although a spokeswoman for the British High Commissioner in Australia described the report as “premature”.
Bevan Shields, a London-based journalist for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age newspapers, tweeted that the story was inaccurate and Abbott will likely joint the Board of Trade in “some sort of advisory capacity” but not as the co-president.
The Board of Trade, currently within the Department for International Trade, advises the government on foreign trade policy and includes figures from politics and the business community. It is chaired by the Secretary of State for International Trade, who also is the board’s only official member. Others serve as advisors, and the government does not disclose their names.
Tony Abbott served as Australia’s prime minister from 2013 to 2015, before Malcolm Turnbull ousted him in a hastily-arranged Liberal Party leadership vote. He then returned to the backbench and held his seat of Warringah in New South Wales, which he lost in a federal election last May.
The London-born politician, who was a close ally to the UK during his time as prime minister, initially warned Britain against leaving the European Union because it would have “seismic consequences” for the country.
Months after the referendum, which saw 52 percent of Britons vote Leave, Abbott dramatically changed his tone.
“First a confession: I was one of the many luminaries to warn Britons against Brexit. Unlike most of them, though, my argument was not that Britain needed Europe but that Europe needed Britain,” he said at the time.
“And unlike most, I’m not sulking because Britons failed to take my advice. Now that it’s happened, I’m quietly thrilled that the British people have resolved to claim back their country.”
Last year, Abbott penned a piece for The Spectator in which he argued that the UK should not worry if it fails to strike new trade deals before the Brexit transition period ends on 31 December 2020.