By Dominic McGrath, PA
Sir Tony Blair has warned that it is “not sensible” for the UK to criticise World Cup hosts Qatar.
Amid criticism of the Gulf state over its human rights record and attitude towards LGBTQ people, the former UK prime minister 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,” he told the News Agents podcast.
“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.”
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.
Amnesty International criticised Mr Blair's comments.
Sacha Deshmukh, Amnesty International UK’s chief executive, said: “It isn’t remotely disrespectful to say that no-one should suffer discrimination or the threat of a seven-year jail sentence simply on the basis of their sexuality.
“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.
“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.”