Keir Starmer has said it is not his place to object to Saudi Arabia’s takeover of Newcastle United, suggesting the deal should be a matter for an independent regulator.
The Labour leader said fans were “glad to see the back of Mike Ashley” after the oil-rich country’s state-controlled sovereign wealth fund spearheaded a £300 million takeover of the embattled football club.
Asked whether the deal should go ahead amid concerns about Saudi Arabia’s lamentable human rights record, Sir Keir said he was “concerned” – but did not say he thought the deal should be blocked.
“It’s not for me as the leader of the opposition to say who should own which football club. It is for an independent regulator. That is the scheme we’re putting forward,” he said.
Pushed to reveal what he thinks, he told BBC Breakfast: “I think an independent regulator will look very carefully… the whole point of an independent regulator is they would look at the thing in the round, and the question of whether this is a fit and proper takeover.”
Sir Keir added that Tory MP Tracy Crouch was currently reviewing football governance – and that she is “respected across the House”.
Amnesty International UK has hit out at the takeover as “an extremely bitter blow for human rights defenders”.
The club’s fans received the news they had been craving when the Premier League announced it had ratified a takeover by a consortium comprising Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), financiers PCP Capital Partners and the Reuben Brothers.
PIF is chaired by Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman and will hold an 80 per cent stake in the club.
Amnesty International UK chief executive officer Sacha Deshmukh said: “We can understand that this will be seen as a great day by many Newcastle United fans.
“But it’s also a very worrying day for anyone who cares about the ownership of English football clubs and whether these great clubs are being used to sportswash human rights abuse.
“In our assessment, this deal was always more about sportswashing than it was about football, with Saudi Arabia’s aggressive move into sport as a vehicle for image-management and PR plain for all to see.
“This will be an extremely bitter blow for human rights defenders and others suffering persecution in Saudi Arabia who will be well aware that this takeover is partly about diverting attention from their plight.
“Our call on the Premier League remains the same – it urgently needs to strengthen its owners’ and directors’ rules to make them human rights-compliant and prevent those implicated in serious human rights violations from buying their way into English football.”
UK-based campaign group Fair Game responded similarly by saying Newcastle’s takeover was “sportswashing pure and simple”.
Fair Game, which has called for the reform of football in England via an independent regulator, has claimed the Premier League club’s new owners “are not fit and proper” and that the Magpies’ “proud” history has been “hijacked”.