The foreign secretary James Cleverly has stated that Qatari officials have taken ‘real steps’ to keep LGBTQ+ fans safe during the World Cup in the state.

This follows significant controversy over human rights in the country, especially for LGBTQ+ people, as homosexuality is illegal there.

Cleverly said he had been involved in “difficult conversations … over a number of years,” around the safety of LGBTQ+ people travelling to the country for the event, which began on 20 November.

When asked by the BBC about whether UK-Qatari relations were more important than protecting LGBTQ+ people abroad, he responded: “The values underpin everything we do.

“This was about ensuring that the English and Welsh fans going over to enjoy the football were safe and happy and that they enjoyed themselves whilst watching the tournament.

“At no point … did we bring up any of the kind of economic or commercial stuff.

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

The Cabinet member commented that the rules for behaviour within the stadiums were a matter for FIFA and other football authorities.

This follows the Welsh LGBTQ+ football group, Rainbow Wall, reporting that fans were made to discard rainbow fan hats before entering the stadium for the Wales/USA game.

“They took them off seven FAW [Football Association Wales] staff (rainbow hats and related items) and virtually threw them in the bin – it was disrespectful,” a volunteer for the Welsh fan embassy said.

“They could have said ‘come back and get them after’ or ‘put them in your bag’. They have to deal with things the right way.”

This included former Welsh women’s captain, Laura McAllister.

“It was pretty heavy handed… It was quite intimidating,” the 57-year-old former player told BBC Breakfast.

“As we went through security we were told by some of the stewards that we couldn’t enter the stadium wearing our rainbow hats.

“I’m experienced enough to cope with it but if it had been a young person, a young girl who hadn’t been prepared for that, it would have been a very unpleasant and intimidating experience.”

Cleverly previously told LGBTQ+ fans visiting the country for the tournament to “be respectful of the host nation” and have “a little bit of flex and compromise.”

The World Cup began 20 November and finishes 18 December.