Did Qatar bribe UK MPs? Ministers defend accepting gifts from Doha

Amid the ongoing EU-Qatar corruption scandal, British MPs have been accused of taking gifts paid for by the Qatari government. Doha reportedly spent more than £260,000 ($320,776) in gifts, hospitality and travel on British MPs since October last year. The MPs have defended all such gifts and the trips by MPs have been declared in accordance with parliamentary rules.

Qatar was accused of human rights abuses in the build-up to the World Cup. Migrant workers were reportedly mistreated and put in danger on building sites. 

Investigators are probing whether the country paid EU MEPs to onfluence policy making and to create a lobby for itself. European Parliament Vice President Eva Kaili and three others have been arrested in connection with the alleged illicit influence campaign.

Even though the trips by UK MP were declared as conforming to rules, human rights campaigners have questioned their legitimacy. 

Rose Whiffen, research officer for Transparency International UK, told Politico, “MPs should ask themselves why governments with poor human rights records are offering them paid foreign trips before deciding whether it is right to accept them.”

There is no evidence yet that suggests UK MPs took bribes frm Qatar. However, some of them have been criticized for kicking off debates praising Qatar’s record on human rights in the House of Commons. 

Alun Cairns, a former Cabinet minister and chair of the Qatar all-party parliamentary group (APPG), had hailed Qatar’s progress on human rights in speech during a debate he initiated. Politico reported that Cairns undertook two trips to Qatar in 2022 that were worth a total of £9,323 ($11,501) including flights, accommodation and meals.

On Qatar’s stance on gay rights, David Mundell, a former Cabinet minister and vice-chair of the Qatar APPG, had said, “Many of the people who have voiced opinions on this issue should also focus their energies on the handling of LGBT issues in professional football in the UK.”

He visited Qatar once last year on a trip worth more than £7,000 ($8635).

A total of 36 MPs lavished in the hospitality of the Qatari government since October last year. Three MPs received benefits worth more than £13,000 ($16,058) each.

(With inputs from agencies)

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