BRAINTREE and Halstead MP James Cleverly has defended his previous advice to gay football fans travelling to Qatar after he was criticised for suggesting that LGBT+ supporters should show “a little bit of flex and compromise”.

The Foreign Secretary’s comments last month, in which he also advised LGBT+ football fans heading to the football tournament to “respect the culture of your host nation”, were criticised in some quarters.

Earlier this month, Labour MP Luke Pollard urged Mr Cleverly to apologise for comments which “force LGBT people back into the closet”.

Homosexuality is illegal in Qatar, and anyone found participating in same-sex sexual activity can be punished by up to seven years in prison.

But today, Mr Cleverly sought to defend his remarks, as he said that he was trying to ensure LGBT fans have a “safe and secure time” at the tournament.

He directed all travelling fans to Foreign Office advice.

Part of the Foreign Office advice notes “any intimacy between persons in public can be considered offensive, regardless of gender, sexual orientation or intent”.

Pressed on his previous comments during an appearance on ITV’s Good Morning Britain, Mr Cleverly said: “Those people who are critical of Qatar hosting the World Cup, that’s a criticism that is better addressed at Fifa, which was the awarding body.

“My focus is to make sure that British visitors, particularly LGBTQ+ visitors to Qatar going to enjoy the World Cup, are safe and that they enjoy their tournament.

“So, my advice was purely about ensuring that they have a safe and secure time at the World Cup.

“We always say that you have to respect the laws of your host nation. That is a universal element of British travel advice.

Asked if gay football fans should refrain from holding hands while there, he said that his job was to make sure fans are “safe”.

“I’ve spoken at length with the Qatari authorities on this and it’s worth bearing in mind that men and women don’t typically hold hands in Qatar, and other conservative Muslim countries like Qatar, so my strong advice is to look at the UK Government’s travel advice.”

Asked if he would attend the world footballing event if he was gay, he said: “I would certainly consider going and as I say I want to make sure that those British fans are able to go to the World Cup to be safe and secure.”

He said that British advice was making sure that everyone “whether they be gay, straight” enjoys the event.

The tournament kicks off on Sunday, November 20, with England and Wales in Group B.