Whilst Beefy Botham has spent most of his career batting for sixes and bottling wine, he now finds himself as a representative of the British Government, tasked with sniffing out trade opportunities with Australia. His appointment, alongside nine other slightly more predictable envoys has led to even more predictable criticism from figures who miss the point of trade envoys almost entirely.
Botham, known as Guy the Gorilla in the land down under, wouldn’t seem the most obvious choice not only because he is a cricketer but also because of his tumultuous relationship with that country. Not only is his career highlight his famous 1981 victory over Australia but he has also had his fair share of Prince Phillip-esque gaffes such as saying “Aussies are big and empty – just like the country.”
Tweeting heads have reacted with two main jibes ranging from the sexist to simply misinformed. Firstly, one tweet said “@trussliz Yes, I believe Ian Botham has a better grasp of international trade than you” to the Secretary of State who is 38 trade deals into the job, down to the slightly less misogynistic critique that Botham is a cricketer not a diplomat.
But critics miss the point – it is his gaffe prone, occasionally putting his foot in it type nature that got Botham the job in the first place. Trade Envoys are not high-level diplomats who sit ironing out complex detail in trade deals. Botham’s appointment serves two key purposes:
Firstly, Botham is hugely popular with many in the new red wall. He lives in North Yorkshire, less than 15 miles from the Tees Tories, he was an outspoken Brexiteer and it pays the Government no harm to be seen to be pally with Botham by putting him in a largely ceremonial role.
My second point is just that – the role is not anywhere near as significant as it is being made out to be. As trade expert David Henig puts it “At best, through their connections the trade envoys may be able to help generate some new business, fix a market access issue, or facilitate introductions. At worst, they may sometimes try to interfere beyond their expertise. Generally, it is just a bit more low level diplomacy.”
Any visit Botham makes will create a fantastic press splash, both home and abroad, he’s not there to be talking tariffs or quotas.