Blair tells LGBT campaigners not to 'disrespect' World Cup hosts Qatar

Tony Blair tells LGBT campaigners not to ‘disrespect’ World Cup hosts Qatar because the UK allies ‘invest a huge amount of money in this country’ and likens situation to England hosting in 1966 when homosexuality was illegal in Britain

  • The tiny Gulf nation has been the subject of protests and criticism
  • Homosexuality remains illegal there and players had wanted to voice criticism
  • But former Labour leader Sir Tony warned the protests were ‘not sensible’
  • Said the repressive state was a UK ally which invested a lot of money in Britain

Former prime minister Sir Tony Blair sparked fury today by telling gay rights campaigners not to ‘disrespect’ World Cup hosts Qatar.

The tiny Gulf nation has been the subject of protests and criticism around the tournament due to its refusal to accept LGBT rights.

But former Labour leader Sir Tony, who welcomed the former emir Sheikh Hamed Bin Khalifa Al Thani to Downing Street in 2006, warned the protests were ‘not sensible’.

Speaking to LBC’s News Agents podcast he said that the repressive state was a UK ally which invested a lot of money in Britain. 

He also pointed out that when England hosted the World Cup in 1966, homosexuality was still illegal in Britain. 

His comments were criticised by Amnesty International’s UK chief executive Sacha Deshmukh saying: ‘Qatar’s anti-LGBTQ+ laws are absolutely indefensible and there was never any conceivable way that Qatar would be able to host the World Cup without this being pointed out time and time again.

‘Instead of harking back to 1966 and the completely different world of 56 years ago, Tony Blair should be standing up for present-day LGBTQ+ Qataris who are being denied their freedom and their basic rights.

Former prime minister Tony Blair sparked fury today by telling gay rights campaigners not to ‘disrespect’ World Cup hosts Qatar.

England’s football team had been planning to wear the LGBTQ+ armband along with other European teams such as Germany and Denmark before the campaign was dropped when FIFA threatened to hand out yellow cards to players. Pictured: Harry Kane wearing the rainbow armband

Blair also pointed out that when England hosted the World Cup in 1966, homosexuality was still illegal in Britain.

Mr Blair and wife Cherie with the emir of Qatar Sheikh Hamed Bin Khalifa Al Thani and Sheikha Mozah Bint Nasser Al Missned in 2006

Blair hails ‘courageous’ jungle animal penis eater Matt Hancock

Sir Tony Blair has offered some support to former health secretary Matt Hancock as he returns from the I’m A Celebrity jungle, suggesting that the unorthodox move ‘took courage’.

The Tory MP is returning to face angry colleagues, constituents and questions about his political future in Westminster after coming third in the ITV show.

The West Suffolk MP surpassed the expectations of many by reaching the final but came behind the winner, Euro 2022 champion Jill Scott, and Hollyoaks actor Owen Warner in a public vote on Sunday night.

His 21 days in the Australian jungle have seen him suspended from the Conservative parliamentary party and criticised by colleagues including Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

While there he took part in several Busktucker Trials, including eating camel penis.

But Sir Tony, who said that he had not been watching the popular TV show, had some supportive words for the former Cabinet minister.

‘When you’ve been through the wringer as he has, and you know, as a politician who’s got to a certain level in politics, he’s probably got quite a lot of courage to go and do something like that.

‘And I mean, people can attack him or whatever. But I always say this to (former Labour frontbencher) Ed Balls, who reinvented himself in this extraordinary way after leaving politics, and literally this is the most surprising thing I ever came across in terms of a post ministerial career.

‘But, you know, it takes a lot of courage to go do something like that.

‘I wished him well, from the outset. I worked with him a bit during the pandemic. And, you know, he was working hard, they were all working hard on it.’

The former Labour leader suggested that Mr Hancock, who said entering the jungle would allow him to reach out to voters in a new way, might have had ‘a point’.

‘The former prime minister should realise that if anything is driving change in Gulf countries today, it’s the bravery of human rights defenders who are putting their freedom on the line.’ 

Seven European nations, including the two British teams, had hoped to wear the rainbow armband during the tournament as part of a year-long anti-discrimination campaign in Qatar, where homosexuality is illegal.

However, bosses had to abandon those plans when FIFA threatened them with sporting sanctions, which only started at a yellow card for the captains wearing them.

Other gestures have since been made, including lighting up the Wembley Stadium arch in rainbow colours, while BBC pundit Alex Scott did wear the armband during coverage of England’s opening game with Iran.

Sir Tony said: ‘Well, you can feel strongly about gay rights, and indeed, you know, my government introduced a huge amount of legislation on it and I’m a total supporter of it.

‘But I think it’s not sensible of us to disrespect Qatar. This is their biggest event that they’ve held… it’s a huge event for the country.

‘They are allies of ours, they do invest a huge amount of money in this country.

‘I think you can make the point that you hope – as I believe will happen, by the way, across the Middle East… one of the things I can see now is there is a kind of social revolution going on across the Middle East right now.

‘And I think it will, in the end, change the role of women… and on things like gay rights, the Middle East is opening up today in the Gulf.’

The former Labour leader continued: ‘I think we’re in danger of going over the top on this. Remember, the last time we held the World Cup here in England, at that time in 1966, being homosexual was still illegal.’

Today sports minister Stuart Andrew, who is gay, said he won’t ‘shy away from who I am’ and would wear a OneLove armband to tomorrow’s World Cup clash between England and Wales.

Current Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer is boycotting the football tournament with his frontbench team over concerns for the rights of LGBTQ people and women, and for workers who died in the build-up to the competition.

Mr Blair has previously had close links to the Qatar regime. In 2012 a court heard accusations he helped broker a deal to help its royal family invest in London hotels. 

A tranche of private emails, released by the US in 2015, revealed that his wife Cherie subsequently and separately acted as a sort of informal fixer for the Qatari royals, successfully lobbying Hillary Clinton to agree to a private meeting with Sheikha Mozah. 

In the wide-ranging interview Mr Blair – a prominent Remain supporter, said Brexit was ‘done – legally and politically’ and praised successor Sir Keir Starmer for moving the argument on from trying to rejoin. 

‘I think you are in a curious way, you’re almost in an unspoken negotiation with the British people at the moment over Brexit. Because no one wants to go back to the division of the Brexit referendum and its aftermath. And I understand that,’ he said.

‘On the other hand, I do believe people think there’s a problem, and it needs fixing. So, I think we can afford as a Labour Party to move to the next stage, which is to say, there is a problem, here are practical ways of fixing it that don’t disturb the overall Brexit settlement.

‘But just recognise that in today’s world, you’ve got to have a relationship with the continent of which you’re a part because you can change your political and legal relationship with Europe, but you can’t change your geography or your values or your interests.’

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