Qatar gave gifts to British MPs before the World Cup | Qatar

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

The Qatari government has handed out gifts to MPs worth £251,208 in the 12 months to October 2022, including stays in luxury hotels, business class flights and horse racing tickets.

The value of gifts from Qatar exceeded the amount spent by the other 15 countries whose governments donated to British MPs combined. And that was more than six times the £37,661 in gifts and hospitality given to MPs by the United Arab Emirates, the second largest foreign government donor.

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

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 of hospitality from foreign governments with questionable human rights records’ and that it could ‘leave the door open to undue influence”. However, there is no evidence that any MP broke the rules.

The Qatari government did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

In some cases, MPs who received gifts subsequently appeared to speak favorably of Qatar in parliamentary debates or deflect attention from issues that the authorities were keen to downplay.

During a debate on 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’, gave a speech praising Qatar, including “paying tribute” to its response. to the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan.

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

Records show he received £9,323 in donations from the Qatari government in 2022, for a five-day trip in February to meet officials alongside other members of the Qatari All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG), and for a travels a month later to attend the political event of the Doha Forum.

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

APPG Deputy Chairman David Mundell, who accepted hospitality worth £7,473 from Qatar for a trip last October, also contributed to the debate, addressing a concern raised by another MP regarding LGBTQ rights in Qatar saying that critics should “focus their energies on dealing with LGBT issues in professional football in the UK” – “Rather than just pointing out issues that may arise in other countries, we always have to focus on the issues at home,” he said.

Mundell, who was the openly gay Conservative Prime Minister, also gave an interview to the Qatar Public Agency this year in which he criticized “baseless” media coverage of a report on Qatar’s record on workers’ rights. He did not mention the policy of the International Labor Organization discovery that “despite the steps taken” on workers’ rights in Qatar, there were “gaps in implementation”, nor its past to research which revealed that 50 workers in Qatar lost their lives in 2020 alone, with more than 500 seriously injured and 37,600 minor to moderate injuries.

Both MPs made reference to their declared interests during the parliamentary debate. Mundell did not respond to requests for comment. A statement from Qatar’s APPG, provided via Cairns, said the group has played an ‘active role in examining all aspects of the UK-Qatar relationship, including human rights. people, ethics, education, energy and infrastructure”.

Details of Qatar’s donations have been revealed through analysis of declarations in the Members’ Register of Interests. Records show that 34 MPs declared 40 donations from Qatar in the year to October 2022. Of these, 22 MPs were Conservative, seven Labour, three SNP and two Independents.

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

During two trips, in October 2021 and February 2022, British MPs visited Qatar to discuss issues such as “World Cup preparations, workers’ rights reform and bilateral relations”, as well as Qatar’s “humanitarian and political response to the Afghan crisis”. , the transparency logs are displayed.

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

The Qatari Foreign Ministry paid for the all-inclusive tours, typically spending between £7,000 and £8,000 per person on flights, hotels and meals over a seven-day trip.

A source told the Observer that MPs on one trip were accommodated in luxury hotels with “vast swimming pools” and traveled business class on Qatar Airways. Some MPs were taken on a camel race and had a private dinner with officials involved in delivering the FIFA World Cup.

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

“In particular, they wanted to play down criticism of their role in the World Cup,” the source said. “I came back just as critical. Maybe a couple would have been nicer.

The APPG did not comment on claims that civil servants were treated luxuriously or say which government officials the MPs met during their travels, but said the visits “included meetings with a range of ministers and NGOs, including the UN-sponsored International Labor Organization”.

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

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

Rose Whiffen of Transparency International said “too many MPs” were showing “poor judgment” in accepting gifts from foreign administrations. She added that they need to “seriously consider whether it is appropriate to accept this kind of travel – not just whether they are allowed to”. Chris Bryant, Labor MP and chairman of the House of Commons Standards Committee, has warned that parliament is “particularly vulnerable” to foreign influence, saying during a debate in December that “we must be aware of the danger that ‘a foreign power might seek’. pressure… through the back door.

Bryant is one of several MPs who accepted an in-kind donation from Qatar in the form of an all-expenses-paid trip, but told parliament in May he regretted doing so. He argued for American-style rules that prohibit members of Congress from accepting donations and gifts from foreign governments. All overseas visits are paid for by Congress.

Relations between the UK and Qatar have grown stronger in recent years. In May, 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 jobs in the UK and was worth up to £10billion.

A few days later, the Ministry of Defense announced that it would fund counter-terrorism training for the Qatari army 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 came under fire after telling gay football fans they should be respectful in Qatarwhich criminalizes their sexuality when they attend the World Cup.

Speaking on LBC’s Nick Ferrari Breakfast Show, he suggested they show “a bit of flexibility and compromise” and be “respectful of the host country”. Labor called the comments “shockingly tone deaf”.

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