Foreign Secretary James Cleverley has come under fire for suggesting that LGBT fans attending the World Cup in Qatar should “respect the host country”.

It comes after veteran campaigner Peter Tatchell said he was arrested after organizing the country’s first LGBT protest to highlight human rights abuses ahead of the sporting event.

Mr Cleverley urged fans to show “a little bit of flexibility and compromise” and “respect the culture of the host country”.

But Mr Tatchell hit back at the remarks, saying the foreign secretary should instead “highlight the abuses being perpetrated by the regime”.

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A trip to the World Cup, Mr Cleverley said, was “collusion with a homophobic, sexist and racist regime”, the activist said.

Critics also called the Cabinet’s comments “disgusting” and “shockingly tone-deaf”.

Mr Cleverley told LBC radio: “I have not spoken to the Qatari government in direct response to Peter Tatchell, but my understanding is that he has been questioned and that he has been supported by the FCDO consular team.

“In the past I have spoken to Qatari authorities about gay football fans coming to watch the World Cup and how they will treat our fans and international fans.

“They want to make sure that football fans are safe, secure and have fun, and they know that means they’re going to have to make some compromises from the point of view of an Islamic country with a set of cultural norms that are very different from our own.

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“One of the things I would say to football fans is, you know, please respect the host country.

“They’re trying to make sure people can be themselves and enjoy football and I think with a little bit of flexibility and compromise on both sides it can be a safe, secure and exciting World Cup.”

He also told Sky News that the UK has “incredibly important partners in the Middle East”.

“These are Muslim countries, they have very different cultural starting points to us. I believe that when you visit a country, it is important to respect the culture of the host country.”

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Mr Cleverley hit out at Sir Keir Starmer after the Labor leader said he would not attend the World Cup even if England reached the finals because of human rights abuses in Qatar.

“As the leader of the opposition, he is in a great position to send messages. I’ve got a real job to do,” said Mr Cleverley, who retained his post as foreign minister after Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s reshuffle on Tuesday.

“Due to the reshuffle, I had to change my schedule a bit, but I think if I can go, I should go because it is an important international event.

“There will be a lot of my international interlocutors there, and there will be a lot of British people abroad, and one of the first responsibilities of the Foreign Office is to protect British citizens when they travel abroad.”

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Mr Tatchell said: “The UK Government must use its public voice to condemn the appalling human rights abuses committed daily by the Qatari regime.

“If we all don’t speak up, Qatar will achieve its goal of washing away its terrible reputation during the World Cup. Mr. Cleverley has an opportunity to highlight the abuses perpetrated by the regime.

“All fans, not just LGBT, should boycott the FIFA World Cup and use their social media to amplify Qatar’s shocking human rights abuses. Attending the World Cup is colluding with a homophobic, sexist and racist regime.”

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Opposition parties also criticized the Cabinet’s comments, with SNP Westminster Deputy Leader Kirsten Oswald tweeting: “It seems the Foreign Secretary is essentially advising people going to the World Cup in Qatar to show some respect and not be gay. It’s disgusting.”

Labour’s shadow culture secretary Lucy Powell said: ‘James Cleverley is stunningly tone deaf. Sports should be open to everyone. Many fans will feel unable to attend this tournament to support their team due to Qatar’s human rights, labor and LGBT+ records.

“The government should challenge Fifa on how they have put fans in this position and ensure the full safety of all fans in attendance, rather than defending discriminatory values.”

Liberal Democrat MP Leila Moran said: “The World Cup should be a celebration of the beautiful game, instead it is being used by countries like Qatar to whitewash their atrocious human rights records.

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“Any UK officials present should use their position to highlight human rights abuses, not support the regime.”

In a video released on Tuesday, Mr Tatchell said he was “interrogated” during his detention for 49 minutes after holding a demonstration outside the national museum in Doha.

The 70-year-old activist said his aim was to draw attention to the treatment of the LGBT+ community, women and migrant workers in the Gulf country, where homosexuality is illegal.

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

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Qatar’s government communications office said “no arrests have been made” and that “rumours on social media that a representative of the Peter Tatchell Foundation has been arrested in Qatar are completely false and baseless.”