Lib Dems call for Labour donation to human rights charities after cost of Drakeford’s Qatar trip revealed
Mark Drakeford’s trip to Qatar to promote Wales cost £13,000, according to the reply to an FOI request by the Welsh Liberal Democrats.
The First Minister travelled to the nation that was hosting Wales’ first World Cup in 64 years alongside Economy Minister Vaughan Gething.
The Liberal Democrats had repeatedly called on the Welsh Government to cancel the trip over human rights concerns. They said that the total cost showed that it was also an unnecessary use of public money during the cost-of-living crisis.
Mark Drakeford had said that the decision to go was a “close run thing” but that it was too good an opportunity to promote Wales on the world stage to turn down.
The Welsh Liberal Democrats however called on the Welsh Labour Party to donate £13,000 of its own funds to human rights charities addressing the issues faced by LGBTQ+ people, women and foreign workers in Qatar.
Commenting Welsh Liberal Democrat Leader Jane Dodds MS said: “What these freedom of information requests show is what we long suspected, human rights have taken a backseat in the Welsh Government’s priorities during its engagements with Qatar in favour of investment deals.
“There is also a question over whether spending £13,000 of taxpayers’ money on a trip for two Ministers to Qatar is good value for money, especially in a cost-of-living crisis.
“In order to make up for helping to legitimise a tournament built on human rights abuses, I am now calling on the Welsh Labour Party to donate £13,000 of their own party funds to human rights charities that address the various issues faced in Qatar.
“I am also reiterating my party’s calls that the Welsh Government office in Qatar should be shut. If it is unable to promote human rights, including LGBTQ+ rights and the rights of workers, alongside other values of our country, then it shouldn’t be open.”
Speaking in Doha last week, Mark Drakeford had defended his decision to go to Qatar and attend business meetings there amid concerns over human rights in the country.
He pointed to the fact that Qatar was investing millions of pounds in expanding a major gas terminal in Wales.
“In the end, I am the First Minister of Wales,” he said. “I think that comes with some responsibilities to represent Wales at a rare occasion when Wales are on a platform such as that of a World Cup.
“I’ve had a series of meetings. Mostly today they’ve been with business interests. People who have investments in Wales already and looking to have further investments. 20% of the LNG -the liquid natural gas that we rely on in the UK – comes into the UK through Wales.
“And last week Qatar energy and other investors announced further significant investments in Pembrokeshire to secure energy for us for the future and we have many other investments here in Wales.”
Mark Drakeford said he didn’t think it was “weird” that he was in Qatar striking deals while controversy raged over the World Cup.
“The fact that we are here for a major sporting occasion is an opportunity to do all sorts of other things. When I went to Tokyo for the Rugby World Cup I took a whole delegation of dignitaries.
“It’s because we have the engagement of that sort that we have an influence on the way that matters develop into the future.”
A separate Freedom of Information request by the Welsh Liberal Democrats also shows that the Welsh Government office in Qatar has never been used to promote human rights in the country, they said.
This is despite in a previous reply to Welsh Liberal Democrat calls to close the office, the Welsh Government stating: “We believe in engaging with countries that do not always share our values on human rights, LGBTQ+ rights, workers’ rights and political and religious freedom. Engaging with countries is an opportunity to develop a platform for further discussion, to raise awareness, and to potentially influence a change in approach.”
The FOI response shows that despite the above statement, the Welsh Government’s presence in Qatar had not been used to “further discussion” nor “potentially influence a change” beyond holding a single online event on International Women’s Day in 2021.
“The office has not been involved in other external activity to promote the issues raised in your request,” the FOI response said.
“The issues you raise would instead be covered by the UK Embassy and by Welsh Government Ministers or senior officials when in Qatar, which they have done for example whilst showcasing our values at the recent FIFA 2022 Qatar World Cup.”
Support our Nation today
For the price of a cup of coffee a month you can help us create an independent, not-for-profit, national news service for the people of Wales, by the people of Wales.