James Cleverly under fire for urging LGBT fans to 'respect' Qatar during the World Cup

"Flexibility and compromise": Vincent McAviney explains why the foreign secretary is under fire for his comments

Foreign Secretary James Cleverly has come under fire for suggesting that LGBT football fans heading to the World Cup in Qatar should be "respectful of the host nation".

It came after veteran campaigner Peter Tatchell claimed he was arrested after staging an LGBT protest in the country to highlight human rights abuses in the run-up to the major event.

The status of LGBT attendees and players at the World Cup in Qatar has been a point of contention for international football fans in recent months.

ITV Correspondent Libby Wiener says James Cleverly has 'put his foot in it'

Homosexuality is illegal in Qatar and Muslims can face the death penalty if prosecuted for it.

Mr Cleverly urged fans to show "a little bit of flex and compromise" and to "respect the culture of your host nation", before Downing Street distanced itself from his comments.

But Mr Tatchell hit back at the remarks, saying the Foreign Secretary should instead "highlight the abuses being carried out by the regime".

Going to the World Cup, as Mr Cleverly has said he will, is "colluding with a homophobic, sexist and racist regime", the activist said.

Critics also described the Cabinet minister’s comments as "abhorrent" and "shockingly tone deaf".

Mr Cleverly told LBC radio: "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.

Qatar has come under fire for its treatment of LGBT people. Credit: PA

"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."

Qatar has insisted LGBT attendees will not face sanctions and stated it wants everyone to feel welcome and secure, but has also asked for people to be respectful of the state's culture.

But Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's official spokesman rejected Mr Cleverly's wording, suggesting people should not have to "compromise who they are".

He added: "Qatar’s policies are not those of the UK Government and not ones we would endorse."

Mr Cleverly took a swipe at Sir Keir Starmer after the Labour leader said he would not attend the World Cup, even if England reach the final, due to Qatar’s human rights record.

"As the leader of the Opposition, he’s in a lovely position to send messages. I’ve got real work to do,” said Mr Cleverly.

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Opposition parties also criticised the cabinet minister’s comments, with SNP Westminster deputy leader Kirsten Oswald tweeting: "Foreign Secretary seems in essence to be advising people travelling to the World Cup in Qatar to show some respect and not be gay. This is abhorrent."

Labour’s shadow culture secretary Lucy Powell said: "This is shockingly tone deaf from James Cleverly. 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, workers, and LGBT+ rights."

In a video released on Tuesday, Mr Tatchell claimed he was "subjected to interrogation" while detained for 49 minutes after carrying out the demonstration outside the national museum in Doha.

He was later released by Qatari police and flew to Sydney, Australia.