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 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.
FIFA continue to face scrutiny over Qatar's host status. Nick Potts
“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.
Tony Blair spoke after it was revealed that Qatar is reportedly set to review its investments in London after a ban on the gulf state's advertising.
Transport for London (TfL) tightened its prohibition on buses, taxis and Tubes amid an outcry over LGBTQ rights and the treatment of migrant workers in the run-up to the World Cup.
This has triggered Doha to reconsider its “current and future investments” in London, according to the Financial Times.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan told TfL to “review how it treats advertising and sponsorship from countries with anti-LGBT+ laws” in 2019.
The review led to advertising suspensions for 11 nations including Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, as well as Qatar, where homosexuality is illegal.
“Some” Qatari adverts, however, slipped through the net and outrage ahead of the controversial World Cup prompted TfL to reiterate the rules.
Tony Blair has urged the UK to maintain positive relations with the World Cup host country. Victoria Jones
But Doha was reportedly angered when TfL, which is chaired by Mr Khan, contacted the Q22 body overseeing the World Cup to discuss the ban.
The Financial Times quoted an individual involved in the review saying Qatar was “reviewing their current and future investments” in London and was “considering investment opportunities in other UK cities and home nations”.
The person said Doha considered the TfL ban “another blatant example of double standards and virtue signalling to score cheap political points around the Qatar World Cup”.
Qatar has not commented on the report and it is unclear what effect a review would have.