Rishi Sunak has hit back at former England footballer Gary Neville after he claimed UK workers were exploited during a World Cup broadcast.
Ahead of Sunday’s final, in which 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 to the problems faced by NHS nurses.
The former Manchester United defender also accused ministers of “demonising rail workers, ambulance workers and, terrifyingly, nurses”.
Asked about Qatar’s treatment of migrant workers, Neville said he abhors violations of workers’ rights and disagrees with the idea that people “are not paid enough money working in bad conditions”, adding that it is a problem that can never accepted in “this region or any region”.
Referring to workers’ rights in the UK, he continued: “We can’t have people getting a small wage for working, we can’t have people in accommodation that’s uncomfortable and disgusting, we can’t have that.
“That should not happen with the wealth that exists [in Qatar] and it shall not happen in our country that our nurses have to fight for an extra pound or two.”
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 tune in to Gary Neville, they want to hear about football and watch football. They don’t want to discuss politics.”
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Tory MP Simon Clarke said on Twitter: “Quite apart from the fact that every nurse receives a £1,400 pay rise, comparing workers’ rights in Qatar to the UK is grotesque.”
Columnist Nick Timothy tweeted: “Gary Neville – paid apologist for Qatar – used his ITV pundit slot to make a partisan speech unchallenged and make offensive comparisons between Qatar and Britain on workers’ rights.
“The hypocrisy is no surprise, but ITV’s failure to anticipate this is unacceptable.”
Another Conservative MP, Lee Anderson, said in a tweet: “Another partisan 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 talks about”.
Mr Neville, a Labor supporter, replied: “I’m glad you’re p****d off! The biggest set of charlatans ever 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 companies to confiscate workers’ passports and stop them from leaving the country, subjecting them to difficult conditions with very little pay.