Tory MP Defends ‘Top Bloke’ Praise For 'Aggressive Misogynist' Tony Abbott

Sir Robert Syms shared post that ridiculed Emily Thornberry calling out Abbott's sexism.

The Tory Party is facing a fresh sexism row after one of its MPs retweeted claims that Australian PM Tony Abbott was “a top bloke” because of his misogynist views.

Backbencher Sir Robert Syms shared to his 9,000 followers a tweet by a self-styled “patriotic Englishman” that ridiculed criticism of Abbott, who is tipped to be hired as Boris Johnson’s new trade guru in coming weeks.

The posts followed a withering attack on Abbott by shadow international trade secretary Emily Thornberry – who described him as an “offensive, aggressive, leering, gaffe-prone misogynist”.

Syms, a former government whip who represents Poole in Dorset, retweeted Rod Bishop’s reaction: “I knew he was a top bloke.”

Robert Syms tweet
Robert Syms tweet
HuffPost UK

Abbott, a climate change sceptic who served two years as Australian PM before being deposed by his party and then losing his seat last year, has been repeatedly accused of sexism.

Former Australian premier Julia Gillard delivered a famously scathing speech about Abbott in the country’s parliament in 2012, saying that “every day in every way” the then Opposition leader was a misogynist.

Abbott had once suggested that “men are, by physiology or temperament, more adapted to exercise authority or to issue command” than women, and he was accused by Gillard of promoting a sign about her that read “Ditch The Witch”.

Former Australian PM Tony Abbott
Former Australian PM Tony Abbott
SIPA USA/PA Images

Gillard’s speech went viral globally, and Australia’s Macquarie Dictionary updated its definition of the term “misogyny”, previously defined as a “hatred of women” to encompass “entrenched prejudice against women”.

Sir Robert defended his decision to share the tweet, stressing that he felt that Abbott deserved more “respect” from Labour.

“I thought Emily Thornberry’s comment was a gross overreaction and I retweeted this chap because it was quite funny,” he told HuffPost UK. “I think Labour don’t have a sense of humour.

″[Abbott] is quite robust and I’m not saying I agree with all his views. But I think Labour is being disrespectful of a guy who represented 20m Australian citizens.

“If he’s fit to be the Queen’s prime minister in Australia he’s fit for office in Britain.

“We have a long tradition in this country of Commonwealth politicians taking part in government, from [Australian PM Robert] Menzies in the Second World War to [South African Jan] Smuts in the cabinet in the First World War.”

But Thornberry told HuffPost UK: “It’s bad enough that we’ve got Boris Johnson hiring someone like Tony Abbott to represent our country abroad, despite his history of rampant misogyny and sexism, but we now have a Tory MP like Robert Syms actively celebrating the fact.

“As Julia Gillard said to Abbott himself, it’s time the Tories took a good look in the mirror, and realised these kind of attitudes have no place in our public life.”

The Department for International Trade insisted no decision had yet been made about Abbott, after the Sun reported that he would be given the role of president of the board of trade.

Abbott was ousted as prime minister after just two years in the job by his colleague Malcolm Turnbull in 2015. He then lost his seat in last year’s general election.