James Cleverly says LGBTQ+ World Cup fans should ‘respect law’ of Qatar | James Cleverly

James Cleverly has told LGBTQ+ football fans travelling to Qatar for the World Cup to “respect the law” of the host country, as the foreign secretary defended attending the tournament himself.

While Cleverly said he understood why some people were uncomfortable with Qatar holding the event, which begins on 20 November, he said it was “my job to make sure those people who do visit stay safe”.

Concerns have been raised over the wellbeing of LGBTQ+ fans who will travel to support England and Wales in the World Cup, given that same-sex relationships are illegal in Qatar.

Tournament organisers have warned against public displays of affection, though have also claimed that everyone, no matter their sexual orientation or background, is welcome.

Cleverly said he had spoken to the Qataris about their legislation on homosexuality. He told MPs on the foreign affairs committee that while “we would always promote not just tolerance, but a real embracement of diversity”, the “default setting” for any Briton travelling overseas should be to “respect the laws of their host countries”.

Challenged over his own attendance by the Labour backbencher Chris Bryant, who is gay, Cleverly said he was going “for a number of reasons”. “Because I’m the foreign secretary and it is my job to ensure British visitors stay safe,” he said.

“I’ve visited Qatar in the lead-up to the World Cup, and when I get to the World Cup I will be speaking to the security authorities to ensure that English and Welsh – or whatever other British fans might be going to the World Cup – remain safe.”

Cleverly added: “I understand there will be people uncomfortable with Qatar hosting the World Cup, I get that – but my job is to make sure those people who do visit stay safe.”

Bryant said he did not think anyone should be attending the World Cup “apart from the teams”, and said gay men in Qatar had been entrapped by police and sent to prison.

Alicia Kearns, a Tory MP and the new chair of the foreign affairs committee, said Cleverly should be more robust about telling Fifa that “we expect to see an end of the giving of World Cups to … countries where our people are fundamentally unsafe.”

Qatar lavished British MPs with gifts ahead of World Cup | Qatar

Qatar has spent more money on gifts and trips for British MPs in the past year than any other country, according to Observer analysis that reveals the Gulf state’s lobbying efforts ahead of next month’s football World Cup.

The Qatari government made gifts to members of parliament worth £251,208 in the 12 months to October 2022, including luxury hotel stays, business-class flights and tickets to horse-racing events.

The value of Qatar’s gifts was greater than the amount spent by the 15 other countries whose governments made donations to British MPs combined. And it was more than six times the £37,661 in gifts and hospitality given to MPs by the United Arab Emirates, the second-highest foreign government donor.

The gifts for the past 12 months also far outstripped those from Qatar in any other year for which records are available, revealing how authorities ramped up efforts to charm British MPs ahead of the World Cup. Records show MPs declared about £100,000 worth of gifts and hospitality from Qatar in the five years to October 2021, but more than double that in the last 12 months alone.

Alun Cairns
Alun Cairns, Conservative MP for the Vale of Glamorgan, has set up a group to ‘foster good relations between the UK and Qatar’. Photograph: Victoria Jones/PA

Transparency International said it was “extremely concerning” that MPs were accepting “thousands of pounds worth of hospitality from foreign governments with questionable human rights records” and that this could “leave the door open to undue influence.” There is no suggestion that any MP broke rules, however.

The Qatari government failed to respond to repeated requests for comment.

In some cases, MPs who received freebies later appeared to speak favourably about Qatar in parliamentary debates, or to deflect attention away from issues that the authorities have been keen to downplay.

During a debate about preparations for the World Cup earlier this month, Alun Cairns, who chairs an informal parliamentary group set up to “foster good relations between the UK and Qatar”, made a speech praising Qatar, including “paying tribute” to its response to the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan.

Cairns, Tory MP for the Vale of Glamorgan, initiated the debate on 20 October and later shared videos of it on Twitter alongside a Nelson Mandela quote: “Sport has the power to change the world.”

Records show he received £9,323 worth of donations from the Qatari government in 2022, for a five-day trip in February to meet officials alongside other members of the Qatar all-party parliamentary group (APPG), and for a trip a month later to attend the Doha Forum policy event.

Tory MP David Mundell
Tory MP David Mundell accepted hospitality worth £7,473 from Qatar for a trip last October. Photograph: Leon Neal/Getty Images

The APPG’s deputy chair, David Mundell, who accepted hospitality worth £7,473 from Qatar for a trip last October, also contributed to the debate, responding to a concern raised by another MP about LGBTQ rights in Qatar by saying critics should “focus their energies on the handling of LGBT issues in professional football in the UK” – “Rather than simply point out issues that might arise in other countries, we still need to focus on issues at home,” he said.

Mundell, who was the first openly gay Conservative cabinet minister, also gave an interview to Qatar’s state-run agency this year in which he criticised “baseless” media coverage about a report into Qatar’s record on worker rights. He did not mention the International Labour Organization’s finding that “despite milestones being reached” on worker rights in Qatar, there were “gaps in implementation”, nor its past research which found that 50 workers in Qatar lost their lives in 2020 alone, with over 500 severely injured and 37,600 suffering mild to moderate injuries.

Both MPs referred to their declared interests during the parliamentary debate. Mundell did not respond to requests for comment. A statement from the Qatar APPG, provided via Cairns, said the group played an “active role in scrutinising all aspects of UK-Qatar relations, including human rights, ethics, education, energy and infrastructure”.

Details of Qatar’s donations were revealed through analysis of declarations in the MPs register of interests. The records show 34 MPs declared 40 donations from Qatar in the year to October 2022. Of those, 22 MPs were Tory, seven were Labour, three were SNP and two were independent.

Most of the money was spent on trips to Qatar for members of the Qatar APPG to meet ministers and government officials.

During two trips, in October 2021 and February 2022, British MPs travelled to Qatar to discuss issues including “preparations for the World Cup, workers’ rights reform and bilateral relations”, as well as Qatar’s “humanitarian and political response to the Afghanistan crisis”, transparency logs show.

A shopping mall in Doha on Saturday
A shopping mall in Doha on Saturday. Photograph: Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images

The Qatari Ministry of Foreign Affairs paid for the all-inclusive visits, typically spending £7,000 to £8,000 per person for flights, hotels and meals during a seven-day trip.

A source told the Observer that MPs on one trip were put up in luxury hotels with “vast swimming pools” and travelled business class on Qatar Airways. Some MPs were taken to a camel-racing event and had a private dinner with officials involved in the delivery of the Fifa World Cup.

They said that MPs gave officials “two barrels worth” over issues, including LGBTQ rights, but that they were “slick and charming” and their goal was clear: “To improve Qatar’s reputation in the world.”

“In particular, they wanted to minimise the criticism of their role in the World Cup,” the source said. “I came back equally critical. Maybe a couple would have been more sympathetic.”

The APPG did not comment on the claims that officials were given luxury treatment or say which government officials MPs met with during the trips, but said visits “include meetings with a range of ministers and NGOs, including the UN Sponsored International Labour Organization”.

Qatar’s Ministry of Culture and Sports, meanwhile, paid for two MPs to attend the Qatar-sponsored Goodwood festival in Sussex in July, according to the transparency records. The MPs were Sir John Whittingdale OBE, the Conservative MP and former culture secretary, who took a plus one and declared the gift as being worth £1,200, and Nigel Evans, Conservative MP for the Ribble Valley. It was the third donation for Evans from Qatar in nine months. Neither Whittingdale nor Evans responded to requests for comment.

The findings will fuel concerns about attempted backdoor lobbying by foreign governments in the UK. Other countries that have made donations to MPs in the past 12 months include Bahrain, Somaliland, Azerbaijan, San Marino and Kuwait. Lobbying by China and Russia has previously been exposed.

Rose Whiffen, from Transparency International, said “too many MPs” were showing “poor judgment” in accepting gifts from overseas administrations. She added that they must “seriously consider if it is appropriate to accept these sorts of trips – not just whether they are allowed to.” Chris Bryant, Labour MP and chair of the Commons Committee on Standards, has warned that parliament is “particularly vulnerable” to foreign influence, saying during a debate in December that “we ought to be cognisant of the danger that a foreign power might be seeking to lobby … through the back door.”

Bryant is one of the MPs who accepted a donation in kind from Qatar in the form of an expenses-paid trip but told parliament in May that he regretted doing so. He has advocated for US-style rules which bar members of Congress from accepting donations and gifts from foreign governments. All visits abroad are paid for by Congress.

Relations between the UK and Qatar have strengthened in recent years. In May, the then prime minister, Boris Johnson, announced a “strategic investment partnership”, which will see Qatar invest in key sectors of the UK economy over the next five years, including fintech, life sciences and cybersecurity. Downing Street said the deal would create new UK jobs and was worth up to £10bn.

Days later, the Ministry of Defence announced it would be funding counter-terrorism training for Qatar’s military ahead of the World Cup. Throughout the tournament, the RAF and Royal Navy will provide air and sea support.

Last week, foreign secretary James Cleverly was criticised after telling gay football fans they should be respectful in Qatar, which criminalises their sexuality, when attending the World Cup.

Speaking on LBC’s Nick Ferrari at Breakfast show, he suggested they show “a little bit of flex and compromise” and be “respectful of the host nation”. Labour called the comments “shockingly tone-deaf”.

UK minister criticised over call for gay World Cup fans to show respect in Qatar | Foreign policy

The UK foreign secretary, James Cleverly, has been criticised for telling gay football fans they should show respect to Qatar, which criminalises their sexuality, when attending the World Cup in the emirate.

Cleverly said Qatar was willing to make compromises to allow people it would normally persecute to attend the tournament, which kicks off on 20 November. On Tuesday the prominent British LGBTQ campaigner Peter Tatchell claimed he had been arrested in Qatar for highlighting the country’s stance.

Cleverly said: “I have spoken to the Qatari authorities in the past about gay football fans going to watch the World Cup and how they will treat our fans and international fans. They want to make sure that football fans are safe, secure and enjoy themselves. And they know that that means they are going to have to make some compromises in terms of what is an Islamic country with a very different set of cultural norms to our own.

“One of the things I would say for football fans is, you know, please do be respectful of the host nation. They are trying to ensure that people can be themselves and enjoy the football, and I think with a little bit of flex and compromise at both ends, it can be a safe, secure and exciting World Cup.”

The shadow digital, culture, media and sport secretary, Lucy Powell, called Cleverly’s comments “shockingly tone-deaf”.

She said: “Sport should be open to all. Many fans will feel they can’t attend this tournament to cheer on their team because of Qatar’s record on human rights, workers and LGBT+ rights. The government should be challenging Fifa on how they’ve put fans in this position, and ensuring the full safety of all fans attending, not defending discriminatory values.”

Cleverly said he had not spoken with the Qatari government about the case of Tatchell, who was stopped in the Qatari capital, Doha, on Tuesday while staging a protest over LGBTQ rights. Cleverly told LBC radio he understood that the campaigner had been questioned and was being supported by the Foreign Office’s consular team.

He said he would attend the World Cup if his diary allowed, and he criticised the Labour leader, Keir Starmer, for saying he would refuse to do so because of Qatar’s record on homosexuality and other human rights issues. The Labour Welsh first minister, Mark Drakeford, reportedly does plan to attend the tournament.

Tatchell hit back at Cleverly, claiming that attending the tournament would amount to “colluding with a homophobic, sexist and racist regime”. He said: “The UK government must use its public voice to condemn the appalling human rights abuses carried out daily by the Qatari regime.

“Unless we all speak out, Qatar will have achieved its goal of sportswashing its appalling reputation during the World Cup. Cleverly has an opportunity to highlight the abuses being carried out by the regime. All fans, not just LGBTs, should boycott the World Cup and use their social media to amplify the shocking human rights abuses by the Qatari state.”

The Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran said: “The World Cup should be a celebration of the beautiful game; instead it’s being used by countries like Qatar to sportwash their atrocious human rights records. Any UK officials who attend should be using their position to highlight human rights abuses, not endorsing the regime.”

Gary Lineker found in breach of BBC guidelines with Tory donors tweet | Gary Lineker

The BBC has found Gary Lineker in breach of the broadcaster’s own impartiality guidelines after he tweeted about the Conservative party taking money from Russian donors.

The Match of the Day presenter made the comment in February while responding to the then-foreign secretary, Liz Truss. She had said English football teams should not play in the Champions League final then to be held in Russia, due to the invasion of Ukraine.

Lineker quote-tweeted Truss’s demand with the observation: “And her party will hand back their donations from Russian donors?”

The BBC’s internal complaints department concluded that this comment breached its impartiality guidelines. This was because Lineker went out of his way to “highlight a perceived inconsistency in the Conservative party’s approach, at a time when relations between the UK and Russia were the subject of significant public debate”.

As a result the presenter has now been publicly reprimanded.

The former England footballer is the BBC’s highest-paid star but because he works in the sports department he is not automatically subject to the ultra-strict social media guidelines that apply to news staff at the BBC.

Yet the BBC complaints department concluded that Lineker should be held to a higher standard than other sports employees due to his high profile as a well-known face of the corporation.

In his defence Lineker argued that his tweet was prompted by an article on football and was intended as a comment on football rather than on politics. BBC Sport management also argued that Lineker was posing a question rather than a statement of opinion on a politically controversial matter.

It would be illegal for the Conservative party to take money from Russian nationals but it has taken substantial donations from individuals of Russian origin, people with dual nationality, or those who made their money in the country.

Lineker’s tweets on topics such as the government and Brexit have long been a particular issue for the BBC, attracting criticism from rightwing newspapers and Conservative MPs.

In response to government pressure, the BBC director general, Tim Davie, made the introduction of tough new social media guidelines one of his priorities when he took the job in 2020, with Lineker singled out as an individual who had caused headaches for the broadcaster.

The guidance asks individuals “to avoid taking sides on party political issues or political controversies and to take care when addressing public policy matters”.

Several leading BBC presenters have been exasperated by the new impartiality rules, with former Newsnight host Emily Maitlis expressing unhappiness with being found in breach of impartiality rules for retweeting a comment by Piers Morgan. Other staff have complained about the impact of the social media rules on discussing issues such as LGBT rights, while more junior staff often raise concerns that they are treated more harshly than leading stars when it comes to enforcement of the rules.

Home Office bans 1,300 ‘violent and abusive’ fans from travelling to the World Cup in Qatar | Football violence

More than 1,300 “violent and abusive” football fans in England and Wales will be banned from travelling to the World Cup in Qatar next month following a season disfigured by a dramatic surge in disorder at matches.

Measures will come into force this Friday requiring 1,308 people with a history of football-related violence or disorder to surrender their passports, preventing them travelling to the Gulf state or neighbouring countries from where they could commute to games.

Fans banned from football in England and Wales, along with any supporter who has “previously caused trouble and is deemed likely to do so again” will be prevented from travelling to the region from 10 days before the World Cup starts on 20 November until the tournament’s conclusion a week before Christmas. “We will not let the behaviour of a minority of lawbreakers tarnish what will be an exciting tournament,” said the home secretary, Suella Braverman.

The crackdown follows a sharp rise in disorder and pitch invasions, with football-related arrests rising by nearly 60% last season compared with the last full year before the pandemic.

Recent Home Office data reveals that incidents were reported at 1,609 of the 3,019 matches played over the course of last season – more than half of all fixtures. Yet the number of individuals banned from heading to Qatar is only slightly higher than the 1,200 Britons banned from travelling to Russia for the World Cup four years ago. That is despite Wales joining England to play at next month’s tournament, though the Home Office did not provide a country-by-country breakdown of fans who will have their passports seized.

For the 2014 tournament in Brazil about 2,200 England supporters received football banning orders, and around 3,200 individuals were banned from travelling to South Africa for the 2010 World Cup.

A view through the open roof of a modern football stadium in darkness, with fireworks exploding above
The Lusail stadium in Qatar, where the 2022 World Cup final will be played. Photograph: Ibraheem Al Omari/Reuters

In a statement, the Home Office said it had responded to the recent disorder with a number of measures and warned that any banned supporter attempting to reach Qatar could face six months in prison and an unlimited fine.

Those facing bans can seek permission to travel to other countries away from the Gulf while the World Cup is being staged, but even that will be far from straightforward as they will be subject to thorough checks.

Police will also be able to stop previous offenders judged likely to cause trouble from travelling to the Gulf. As part of a targeted operation at ports, if such people are caught attempting to reach Qatar, they will face a court hearing for a football banning order within 24 hours.

The Home Office added that police in Qatar would also be gathering intelligence, warning that fans considered to be “posing a risk” could get a football banning order on their return to the UK as well as being arrested for offences in Qatar.

“As with all events of this nature, we are working closely with the host authorities on the safety of British nationals attending and on delivering a successful and enjoyable event,” Braverman said. She added: “Violence, abuse and disorder is not tolerated here, and this criminal behaviour will not be tolerated at the World Cup, which is why we are taking this firm approach.”

Sources are confident that most fans will comply with the banning orders; 99% of supporters who received one surrendered their passport before the 2018 tournament.

Statistics published last month revealed that 516 new football banning orders were issued during last season after a total of 2,198 arrests.

Among the new measures to tackle violence at football matches is a power to extend football banning orders to cover online hate crime linked to the game. The Home Office’s statement that “abusive” fans will be among those prevented from travelling to Qatar suggests a number may have committed such offences.

Ministers have also extended football banning orders to cover class A drugs offences at matches following reports of widespread cocaine use at games.