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The outgoing Attorney-General George Brandis says he was picked as Australia's next high commissioner to the United Kingdom because he's — politically speaking — "a big beast".

Key points:

  • Brandis says a politician, not a diplomat, is needed in London
  • He says the PM called him a "big beast" and that's "meant positively"
  • He'll take over from Alexander Downer as the UK grapples with Brexit negotiations

The London appointment has been described as one of Canberra's worst-kept secrets and Senator Brandis has revealed the Prime Minister personally lobbied him to accept it.

"The Prime Minister was looking for a senior cabinet minister to replace Alexander Downer and he said to me — I hope he doesn't mind me repeating this part of the conversation — 'I want a big beast'," Senator Brandis said.

"'I want somebody who is politically a big beast to occupy this job in London, I don't want a professional diplomat'.

"I think it was meant positively."

Senator Brandis said he had always been attracted to the role and would focus on a new trade deal with the UK once Brexit negotiations were complete, along with increasing security cooperation.

"By convention, the two most important diplomatic postings in the English-speaking world, London and Washington, have usually been occupied by people who have the standing and authority of having been senior members of the cabinet," Senator Brandis said.

He said he was "sentimental" about leaving after working in Parliament House for almost 18 years, with close to a decade in the attorney-general's portfolio in government and opposition.

"One of the mistakes that people in politics make is too often they stay too long because they can't bear to leave," he said.

"They become institutionalised, they become addicted to the game of politics and addicted to the atmospherics of this building, and eventually, they get kicked out."

Senator Brandis said it was not his idea to be posted to London, but admitted he had been thinking about leaving politics for several months.

George Brandis discusses his move to London.

The Queensland senator also rejected Labor's claim he had been pushed out of Parliament because his colleagues did not think he was performing.

"I wouldn't say it was my idea," Senator Brandis told 7.30.

"It was something that developed in discussion and it was something I was attracted to.

"It is a post that I often thought would be a post for which I would have certain suitabilities."

West Australian Liberal Christian Porter will be sworn in as the new attorney-general today.

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