Labour cannot claim to be ‘the party of workers’ if Drakeford goes ahead with Qatar visit
Jane Dodds MS, Leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats
This week, one of Qatar’s most prominent football Ambassadors Khalid Salman described homosexuality as “damage in the mind”. It was the latest in a long line of incidents that demonstrated why Qatar should have never been selected to host a major international sporting competition.
Yet, as things stand, the Welsh Government is still set to send a sizable delegation to the country during the World Cup. First Minister Mark Drakeford, Economy Minister Vaughn Gething and Sports and Culture Minister Dawn Bowden remain the only UK politicians that have confirmed they will visit the country in an official capacity.
This is despite calls from myself and the Liberal Democrats for a diplomatic boycott of the event. The UK Labour Party under Kier Starmer has also called for its politicians to stay away from the event over human rights concerns.
The Labour Party was supposedly founded on workers’ rights and the party still stylizes itself as a party for workers. Yet three of its most senior ministers feel it is appropriate to make an official visit to Qatar, where workers’ rights have been next to none existent.
Migrant workers in Qatar have been used to construct massive infrastructure projects including the World Cup stadiums with poor safety requirements and in many cases without being paid. Amnesty International as well as countless other NGOs have described the situation faced by these workers as “modern slavery”. How does visiting such a place fit in with the Welsh Government’s commitment to ending modern slavery?
A Guardian investigation last year revealed 6,500 migrant workers had died in Qatar, with these numbers thought to be a significant underestimation. Many of these migrant workers died during the construction of the World Cup venues Welsh Ministers will soon likely visit.
It’s not just workers’ rights in Qatar that fill my heart with dread, however – women’s rights in the country are extremely poor with a male guardianship system still in place which means most women still need the permission of a male guardian to carry out everyday tasks.
Earlier this year, a female Mexican World Cup official was raped in the capital Doha. When she reported her rape to the police she was instead charged with having extramarital sex and sentenced to 100 lashes and seven years in jail.
Then we have LGBT+ rights in Qatar which are non-existent. Being gay in Qatar is illegal and punishable by execution. These abhorrent laws have all but effectively barred any LGBT+ Wales fans from going to the World Cup as Wales’ Rainbow Wall has repeatedly highlighted.
These three issues in my mind are already enough to prevent the Welsh Government from going to Qatar and I haven’t even touched on Qatar’s reported links to the financing of terrorist groups.
So why is Mark Drakeford going? This is something that remains unclear to myself and many others. The claim from the Welsh Government is that they will use their voice to raise concerns over human rights and that they are there to support Team Wales.
I am not convinced. Team Wales’ performance will not depend on the presence of three Welsh Government Ministers in Qatar, unless I’ve missed them being promoted to the team itself.
Likewise, I cannot imagine Mark Drakeford is going to make a speech from Qatar on human rights, LGBT+ rights and women’s rights. Raising these issues in private isn’t enough when the very presence of Welsh Government ministers helps legitimise Qatar hosting the tournament and contributes to the massive PR campaign by the Qatari State to “separate human rights and sports”.
We also know that the Welsh Government offices in Qatar haven’t publicly raised human rights concerns.
We can only assume that the reason that Labour is insisting on sending delegates to the country despite all the concerns surrounding human rights is to seek investment from Qatar. There is precedent for this in Welsh Labour with Cardiff Council and its leader Cllr Huw Thomas visiting the country in search of investment deals in 2018. Likewise, the signing up of Qatar Airways to Cardiff Airport was seen as a major coup by the Welsh Government before it pulled out.
But is this really what the Welsh Labour has fallen to? Ignoring human rights concerns for the sake of tainted investment at all costs? A party that is willing to ignore the inconvenient truths around the rights and deaths of workers? This certainly doesn’t sound like a party of workers to me.
Both myself and the Welsh Liberal Democrats maintain steadfast in our opinion that the Welsh Government should not be sending a delegation and de-facto endorsement to Qatar. After campaigning on this issue for over a year, I am also pleased to see that the tide is changing with Adam Price making a stand this week, despite Plaid Cymru’s Elin Jones having described the Liberal Democrats’ stance on human rights in Qatar as “spoiling the moment” and defending Mark Drakeford’s decision to go just days before.
I am also very proud of the Welsh Team for agreeing to wear the ‘OneLove’ armband. Our team aren’t politicians, they don’t have a duty to talk about human rights, but Mark Drakeford, as our First Minister does.
The Welsh Liberal Democrats will continue to call for Mark Drakeford, Welsh Labour and his ministers to boycott the event, to shut its offices in Qatar and the UAE and to speak up more loudly for human rights, no matter how inconvenient it is.
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