LONDON: Qatar has spent more money on gifts and trips for British MPs in the past year than any other country, indicating its lobbying efforts ahead of next month’s football World Cup, The Observer reported.
As of October 2022, the Qatari government had given gifts to members of parliament totaling £251,208 in the previous year, including luxury-hotel stays, business-class flights, and horse-racing tickets, The Observer analysis found.
Their combined value was greater than that of the 15 other countries whose governments made donations to British MPs, and six times the amount given to MPs by the UAE, the second-largest foreign government donor.
Qatar’s generosity over the past year surpassed that of any other year, signaling an attempt to woo British politicians ahead of the World Cup. Records show MPs declared about £100,000 worth of gifts and hospitality from Qatar in the five years to October 2021, but more than double that in the past 12 months alone.
Analyzing declarations in the MPs register of interests, Observer found that 34 MPs declared 40 donations from Qatar in the year to October 2022. Of those, 22 MPs were Tory, seven were Labour, three were SNP and two were independent.
Most of the money was spent on trips to Qatar for members of the Qatar all-party parliamentary group (APPG) to meet ministers and government officials, The Observer reported.
The informal parliamentary group stated that it played “an active role in scrutinizing all aspects of UK-Qatar relations, including human rights, ethics, education, energy and infrastructure.”
Transparency logs show that British MPs visited Qatar twice, in October 2021 and February 2022, 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 Afghanistan crisis.”
The Qatari Ministry of Foreign Affairs paid for the all-inclusive trips, which cost between £7,000 and £8,000 per person for flights, hotels and meals over the course of a seven-day trip, The Observer reported.
A source told The Observer that MPs on one trip were housed in luxury hotels with “vast swimming pools” and flew business class on Qatar Airways. Some MPs were taken to a camel race and had a private dinner with officials involved in the FIFA World Cup.
The source said that MPs gave officials “two barrels worth” over issues, but that they were “slick and charming” with a clear goal “to improve Qatar’s reputation in the world.”
The Observer found that in some cases, MPs who received donations later appeared to speak favorably about Qatar in parliamentary debates, or to deflect attention away from issues that the authorities have been keen to downplay.
Earlier this month, during a debate on World Cup preparations, Conservative MP and APPG Chairman Alun Cairns praised Qatar, including “paying tribute” to its response to the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan.
He later tweeted videos of the debate, along 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 to Qatar in February and a month later to attend the Doha Forum policy event, The Observer reported.
APPG Deputy Chair David Mundell also gave an interview to Qatar News Agency in May in which he criticized “baseless” media coverage about a International Labor Organization report into Qatar’s record on worker rights.
Mundell, who accepted hospitality worth £7,473 from Qatar for a trip last October, was silent on the report’s finding that milestones reached on worker rights in Qatar had “gaps in implementation.”
Qatar’s Ministry of Culture and Sports, meanwhile, paid for two MPs to attend the Qatar-sponsored Goodwood festival in Sussex in July, according to the transparency records.
Transparency International called MPs’ acceptance of “thousands of pounds worth of hospitality from foreign governments with questionable human rights records . . . extremely concerning.” While no MP rules were violated, the organization stated that this could “open the door to undue influence.”
Bryant is one of the MPs who accepted a donation in kind from Qatar in the form of an expenses-paid trip but later expressed regret in parliament. He has advocated for rules similar to those in the US that prohibit members of Congress from accepting donations and gifts from foreign governments and that Congress finances all foreign trips.
The Qatari government did not respond to The Observer’s requests for comment.