Rishi Sunak has hit back at former England footballer Gary Neville after he claimed workers in the UK were being exploited during a World Cup broadcast.
Ahead of Sunday’s final, which saw Argentina beat France on penalties, Neville was working as a pundit for ITV when he appeared to compare the plight of workers involved in the World Cup in Qatar with the issues faced by NHS nurses.
The former Manchester United defender also accused ministers of “demonising rail workers, ambulance workers and terrifyingly, nurses”.
When asked about Qatar’s treatment of migrant workers, Neville said he detests workers’ rights abuses and does not agree with the idea of people “not being paid enough money working in poor conditions”, adding it is an issue that can never be accepted in ” this region or any region”.
Referring to workers’ rights in the UK, he continued: “We can’t have people being paid a pittance to work, we can’t have people in accommodation which is unsavory and disgusting, we can’t have that.
“It shouldn’t happen with the wealth that exists [in Qatar] and it shouldn’t happen in our country that our nurses are having to fight for an extra pound or two pounds.”
However, Neville’s comments have been heavily criticized.
The prime minister’s official spokesman said: “It is clearly not a legitimate or appropriate comparison in any way.”
While Rishi Sunak told the Daily Mail: “I think when most people are tuning in to watch Gary Neville they want to hear about the football and watch the football. They don’t want to discuss politics.”
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Tory MP Simon Clarke said on Twitter: “Quite apart from the fact every nurse is receiving a pay rise of £1400, to compare workers’ rights in Qatar with the UK is grotesque.”
Columnist Nick Timothy tweeted: “Gary Neville – paid apologist for Qatar – used his ITV punditry berth to make a party political speech unchallenged and make offensive comparisons between Qatar and Britain on workers’ rights.
“The hypocrisy is no surprise but the failure of ITV to pre-empt this is unacceptable”.
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Another Conservative MP, Lee Anderson, said in a tweet: “Another party political broadcast by a millionaire. Looks like ITV is on my banned list now. Talk about football Gary and keep your nose out of politics. You don’t know what you ‘re talking about’.
Mr Neville, a Labor supporter, responded: “I’m glad you’re p****d off! The biggest set of charlatans to ever be in power!”
Qatar has been accused of human rights abuses and has faced heavy criticism over its anti-LGBT+ laws and attitudes.
One of the country’s labor laws, also known as the “kafala system” allows Qatari individuals or businesses to confiscate workers’ passports and stop them from leaving the country, exposing them to difficult conditions with very little pay.