Qatar has taken “real steps” for the safety of gay fans, the foreign minister said

Qatar has taken “real steps” to ensure the safety of gay fans attending the World Cup, Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said.

Cleverley told the BBC he had had “difficult conversations” with his Qatari counterparts and had been clear how seriously the UK was taking the issue.

The build-up to the tournament has seen concerns raised about LGBT as well as wider human rights in Qatar.

Homosexuality remains illegal under the country’s law.

Cleverly has just returned from Qatar, where he met with British police and consular officials, as well as Qatari government ministers.

He is the most senior British minister to attend the World Cup so far.

Asked if Qatar was safe for gay fans, he said gay rights was an issue he had “brought up over many years” while working with hosts in preparation for the event.

“I made it clear that we feel very strongly about this issue and actually one of the advantages of having a strong relationship with other countries is that you can have these difficult conversations,” he said.

“The Qataris know how seriously we take this issue and have taken real steps to ensure that gay football fans are safe and feel safe and can enjoy football.”

Mr Cleverly was asked if he thought fans should be allowed to wear rainbow hats in support of LGBT rights while attending games.

Fans attending Wales’ match against the United States on Monday, including former women’s team captain Laura McAllister, said they were told to remove their hats before the game.

Ms McAllister later said the behavior of officials at the game had been “quite heavy-handed” and “quite intimidating”.

Mr Cleverly said the “rules for what goes on in the stadium” were a matter for Fifa and the football authorities.

Speaking to LBC ahead of the tournament, he asked fans to “please … be respectful of the host nation” and show “a bit of flexibility and compromise”.

Asked by the BBC whether the economic and security benefits of the UK’s relationship with Qatar were more important than promoting its values ​​abroad, he said it was a “completely artificial choice”.

“Values ​​underpin everything we do,” he said. “At no point in [the conversations I had recently with my Qatari counterpart] did we bring up any of these kinds of economic or commercial matters.

“This was to ensure that the English and Welsh fans who were going to enjoy the football were safe and happy and that they had fun while watching the tournament.”