Keir Starmer has said it is not for him to object to Saudi Arabia’s takeover of Newcastle United, arguing that 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 sovereign wealth fund headed a £300m takeover deal for the football club.
Asked about whether the deal should go ahead amid concerns about human rights, Sir Keir said he was “concerned” but would not say he thought it 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.
Repeatedly pushed on what he thought, 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 Conservative MP Tracy Crouch was currently reviewing football governance arrangements and that she was “respected across the House”.
The takeover has been criticised by human rights group Amensty International for allegedly allowing Saudi Arabia to “sportswash their appalling human rights record with the glamour of top-fight football”.”
The Saudi Public Investment Fund, which is controlled by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, reinvests the country’s oil revenues around the world.
In a statement, the Premier League said: “All parties have agreed the settlement is necessary to end the long uncertainty for fans over the club’s ownership.
“The Premier League has now received legally binding assurances that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will not control Newcastle United Football Club.”
But it is unclear how these assurances will work in practice given Prince Mohammed’s control of the fund and the fact that six of its nine board members are government ministers.
The PIF, which has provided 80 per cent of funds for the takeover as part of a consortium, has been deemed by the premier league to be separate from the Saudi state, allowing the takeover to pass the ruling body’s owners and directors test.