UK won’t demand Bahrain grand prix cancellation

Britain's government is rejecting Labour demands to call for the cancellation of Sunday's grand prix in Bahrain.

Labour leader Ed Miliband backed his shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper's calls for the race to be scrapped because of ongoing concerns about human rights abuses in the country.

Amnesty International has warned that "no-one should be under any illusions" that Bahrain's human rights crisis is over. The country has employed brutal tactics to quash pro-democracy protests since the Arab Spring began over a year ago.

"Given the violence we've seen in Bahrain, given the human rights abuses, I don't believe the grand prix should go ahead," Ed Miliband said.

"I hope the government will make its view clear and say the same."

Prime minister David Cameron said the decision was "a matter for Formula One", which has already decided that the grand prix will go ahead, however.

"But we always stand up for human rights and it's important that peacaeful protests are allowed to go again," Mr Cameron added.

"Bahrain is not Syria. There is a process of reform underway and this government backs that reform and wants to help it promote that reform."

The row was triggered on BBC1's Question Time last night, when Ms Cooper appealed to Formula One drivers Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button to boycott the race.

"I don't think British drivers should go and I don't think F1 should go ahead in Bahrain," she said.

"You have got demonstrations by democratic protesters who have been violently suppressed."

Mr Miliband added: "Sports and politics generally shouldn't mix, but… what kind of signals does it send to the world when this grand prix is going ahead, given the concerns there are?

"I don't think it's the right decision to let this grand prix go ahead and I think the government needs to weigh in and express its view."

Conservative party co-chairman Sayeeda Warsi had said it was not up to politicians to decide who should participate in the race.

Button is refusing to talk about politics in interviews, instead saying he will only talk about "motor racing" and not "outside issues".

That attitude is reflected in the stance of the Bahraini authorities. "The race is not held for the government of Bahrain, it's held for F1 spectators," the Bahrain International Circuit's chairman Zayed al-Zayani told the Today programme.

"What we do on the track has absolutely nothing to do with what happens on the political scene."

Amnesty has suggested that the 'sportswash' is backfiring, however, as many sports journalists are reporting on the disturbances in the buildup to this weekend's race.

The human rights organisation's most recent report on Bahrain concluded that Manama has a long way to go to meet its international undertakings.

"The Bahraini authorities appear to have taken superficial measures to shield themselves from the real human rights reform they promised the people of Bahrain and the international community in 2011," it stated.

"However, five months after the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry report, immediate measures that would indicate the political will to implement human rights reform are now urgently needed."