Gary Neville sparked fury yesterday by comparing striking UK workers with migrant labourers in Qatar.
The football pundit launched the bizarre rant during ITV‘s coverage of the World Cup final, saying that British ministers were ‘demonising’ public sector staff.
He claimed the conditions for striking nurses and railway workers were like those faced by Qatar’s huge foreign labour force. The Gulf state has been criticised over allegedly exploitative employment practices and for the number of deaths on construction projects.
Former levelling-up secretary Simon Clarke said the comparison was ‘grotesque’ while ITV said it did not endorse Neville’s views. Neville, who played for Manchester United and England, made his remarks in response to fellow pundit Roy Keane saying the World Cup had been stained by corruption.
Gary Neville ranted about strikes and workers conditions in the UK while working as a panelist before the World Cup Final for ITV
Neville said the government had ‘demonised rail and ambulance workers and terrified nurses’
He claimed the conditions for striking nurses and railway workers were like those faced by Qatar’s huge foreign labour force
‘We should detest low pay, we should detest poor accommodation and working conditions,’ said Neville, 47.
‘We can never accept that in this region or any other region – and it is just worth mentioning we’ve got a government in our country that are demonising rail workers, ambulance workers and terrifyingly nurses.
‘We can’t have people being paid an absolute pittance to work, we can’t have people in accommodation that is unsavoury and disgusting.
‘It shouldn’t happen here [in Qatar] … with the wealth that exists. But it shouldn’t happen with the nurses in our country either where our nurses are having to fight for an extra pound or two pounds.’
Neville’s comments yesterday sparked a storm on social media.
Tory MP Mr Clarke tweeted: ‘It is beyond ridiculous that he is given free rein by ITV Sport to overtly politicise a major sporting event.
‘Quite apart from the fact every nurse is receiving a pay rise of £1,400, to compare workers’ rights in Qatar with the UK is grotesque.’
Neville’s fellow pundit Roy Keane also argued the 2022 World Cup in Qatar has been ‘tainted’
Former Tory party leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith said ITV should have cut off Neville, who is a member of the Labour Party. He added: ‘People have been killed on building sites and things all over Qatar and paid a pittance, and he compares that to the UK? It’s unbelievable.
‘To compare a country that demonises gay rights, executes and brings in migrant workers by the truckload and pays them a pittance to a democratic country that has the concept of human rights, rule of law and all that goes with it – he’s abused his position.’
Lee Anderson, Conservative MP for Ashfield, said: ‘It’s a classic case of another champagne socialist who’s got more money than sense. ITV should sack him.’
Campaigners have claimed that as many as 6,500 migrant labourers working on projects linked to the Qatar World Cup have died.
Neville had already attracted controversy by agreeing to work for BeIN Sports – a network run by the Qatari state. This was despite him condemning the country’s treatment of migrant workers in a documentary, entitled Countdown to Qatar, which aired ahead of the tournament.
It is not known how much Neville has earned from his deal with BeIN, but insiders estimated it could run into six figures.
Theresa May’s former advisor attacked Gary Neville over his pre match comments
Nick Timothy, Theresa May’s former chief of staff, said: ‘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.’
Neville responded by saying: ‘Triggering all the right people.’
But he was left squirming in November during an appearance on Have I Got New For You, where he was grilled over his decision to attend the World Cup.
Neville, anchoring the news show for the first time, was backed into a corner to defend his ‘reputation’ as the topic of him accepting money from a Qatari broadcaster was brought up.
‘You know David Beckham, don’t you? He’s going, isn’t he? How much is he being paid?’ panellist Paul Merton asked Neville.
‘I don’t know,’ came Neville’s sheepish reply. ‘More than me!’
In a bid to try and take back control of the news agenda being debated on the show, Neville turned to Ian Hislop, a long-time panellist on the show, and asked if ‘it’s coming home?’
‘What, your reputation?’ came the terse reply.
Hislop, editor of Private Eye, felt other panellists had been ‘very gentle’ with Neville be he ruthlessly went for the ex-footballer in search of answers as to why exactly he has accepted Qatari money.
‘The elephant in the room is you’re commentating there. What’s the defence?’ Hislop asked.
‘Yeah, I’m commentating,’ Neville said.
Ian Hislop (right) grilled Gary Neville (left) over his decision to work as a commentator for state-owned broadcaster beIN Sports during the World Cup in Qatar this month
There have been numerous protests from angry fans over human rights violations in Qatar
Qatar has been criticised for its treatment of workers during the construction of stadiums
‘Well, you’ve got a choice, haven’t you? My view always has been that you either highlight the issues and challenges in these countries and speak about them, or you basically don’t say anything and stay back home and don’t go. And I think we should challenge them.’
That defence simply did not wash with Hislop, who was eager to extract a legitimate argument for his work with beIN Sports.
‘The other option is you stay at home and highlight the abuses. You don’t have to take the Qataris’ money. It’s just not a very good defence.’
Neville was left near-speechless as the live audience applauded.
‘That’s…’ he said, before tailing off.
Neville’s appearance on the show was so crucial topics discussed surrounding the World Cup, including members of the LGBTQ+ community being told they should ‘flex and compromise’ in Qatar by UK foreign secretary James Cleverly.
‘It’s unbelievable and it’s all about money and you’ve got mainline celebrities going over there for huge cheques,’ Richard Madeley said, unfazed by Neville being a few feet to his right. ‘You’ve got people like Robbie [Williams] going out there to sing, which I must say I’m very surprised about given all the comments that Robbie Williams has made in the past about gay rights.
‘The fact that he’s going out there to sing is extraordinary. I don’t know what’s happened to people. And it’s not just him, the Black Eyed Peas are going, aren’t they?’
In September he appeared on stage with Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer at the party’s annual conference. He told delegates ‘this is the time now to get behind Keir 100 per cent’. He confirmed he had joined the party in January, but has ruled out standing for Labour at the next election.
An ITV spokesman said: ‘Gary Neville was expressing his own personal views in the context of a discussion about the treatment of workers in Qatar within a live broadcast.
‘His views are his own and were not endorsed by ITV.’
During last year’s European Championships the former Manchester United defender used his ITV commentary role to blast Boris Johnson’s ‘poor’ leadership.
He berated the then-Prime Minister in a withering comparison with after the Three Lions’ 2-1 win over Denmark at Wembley.
Mr Neville, the former Manchester United defender turned property magnate and businessman, was part of ITV’s punditry team at the game, which saw England reach their first major final since 1966.
The multi-millionaire socialist, who backed Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour at the 2019 election, berated the Prime Minister in a withering comparison with Gareth Southgate after the Three Lions’ 2-1 win at Wembley.
After the final while at a febrile national stadium he told the audience 25.8million viewers: ‘The standards of leaders in this country in the last couple of years has been poor.
‘And looking at that man there that’s everything a leader should be: respectful, humble, telling the truth, genuine. He’s fantastic Gareth Southgate.’
But some questioned his outburst. Tory MP Michael Fabricant told MailOnline: ‘Mixing sport and politics is never a wise move.’
In December 2019 he urged his Twitter followers to vote for Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour, before the party was humiliated at the polls.
And in December 2020 he attacked Mr Corbyn’s replacement, Sir Keir Starmer, over Covid restrictions.
He accused Sir Keir of ‘sitting in the stands’ by abstaining on crucial coronavirus lockdown measures.
That did not stop him joining the part in January 2022, and appearing on stage with Sir Keir at its annual conference later in the year.
Less than a month later he sparked outrage again after calling Conservatives ‘a cancer to the UK’.
The multi-millionaire Labour supporter’s taunt on social media drew furious condemnation, with many among his 5.4 million Twitter followers appalled by his words.
He triggered the row by commenting on an online post from Business Secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg backing Boris Johnson’s attempt to return to Downing Street in October.
The multi-millionaire Labour supporter’s taunt on social media drew furious condemnation, with many among his 5.4 million Twitter followers appalled by his words
Neville triggered the row by commenting on an online post from Business Secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg (pictured) backing Boris Johnson’s attempt to return to Downing Street
In response to Neville, farmer Andrew Guy said: ‘As someone suffering from cancer, I think your choice of words is disgusting.’
Publican Adam Brooks, a panellist on GB News, said: ‘Bad choice of word, no matter your feelings on this. Bad look.’
David Reed added: ‘For people who have lost loved ones, don’t compare this to cancer, retract this please.’
Entrepreneur Paul Tavares said: ‘As someone who has lost several close family members to the evil of cancer, how dare you make such a comparison in the name of political point scoring. How dare you!’
In July, Neville revealed he and co-pundit Jamie Carragher were often in hot water with Ofcom and TV bosses for commenting on politics and mocking the Tories.
He said remarks referring to Partygate, during a game in February – saying Crystal Palace and Brighton’s managers and players knew the difference between a Friday party night and work – infuriated Sky executives.
Neville said he and Sky Sports colleague Jamie Carragher (right) had come under pressure from TV bosses for using their position to comment on politics and mock the Tories
Neville said: ‘We got a right b******ing for that.
‘We have about 1,000 complaints from Ofcom every week. If we mention politics we get a call usually from the hierarchy at Sky.’
At last month’s Labour conference in Liverpool, Neville spoke to delegates about how there should be equal pay for men and women in sport. Yet in Qatar, women face huge restrictions.
Neville dismissed suggestions that he was a ‘woke Leftie’ and described himself as ‘a capitalist’ and ‘entrepreneurial businessman who likes to make a profit’.
He has been investing in property after the economic crash in 2008, and his business interests have included hotels, restaurants, film production and eco schemes.
Reports last year indicated that his financial assets totalled £70 million. Records from Companies House show that he has been involved with 60 businesses.
According to his LinkedIn profile, the Salford City FC co-owner is ‘currently working on St Michael’s, a £200 million development project in Manchester city centre’.