The political battle lines are drawn in Newcastle United takeover war – Boris Johnson, MP pressure & more

Newcastle United’s fan drive for transparency received an unexpected boost when Prime Minister Boris Johnson broke his silence on the deal collapse.

Sunday, 9th August 2020, 12:30 pm
Updated Sunday, 9th August 2020, 1:12 pm

The PM, responding to a constituent letter, has taken aim at the Premier League, calling for clarity after Newcastle fans, the buyer and the seller have waited more than 17 weeks for an answer to a question that usually takes two to four.

In this new phase of the ‘pressure from all angles’ takeover approach taken by the buyers, political lines have been explored, behind-closed-doors lobbying undertaken and legal channels discussed.

As well as Johnson, chancellor Rishi Sunak has also responded to a fan letter and, according to the Newcastle United Supporters’ Trust, 29 MPs have reacted positively to around 7,000 letters from fans calling for Premier League clarity on the decision. Cross party support, red, blue and yellow. The push for black and white in the sea of grey has been a burst of colour in the last seven days.

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NORTHALLERTON, ENGLAND - JULY 30: Prime Minster, Boris Johnson visits The North Yorkshire police and is introduced to recently graduated Police Officers on July 30, 2020 in Northallerton, North Yorkshire, England. (Photo by Charlotte Graham - WPA Pool/Getty)

In North Tyneside, MP Mary Glindon was the recipient of 519 of those alone by Friday evening, an amount the St James’s Park season ticket holder (with husband Ray) described as “unprecedented”.

The change.org fan petition calling for an independent review of the Premier League’s O&D test process is likely to have hit 100,000 (it was at 98,000 at time of writing).

Johnson’s words, though, were probably the most prominent on the subject, given he holds the keys to 10 Downing Street.

But what can be taken from them?

Here Liam Kennedy presents Johnson’s letter reply in FULL, and picks out the key points to be taken from the PM’s carefully selected words.

Boris Johnson reply in FULL

Thank you for contacting me about Newcastle United and the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia.

It is my understanding that a proposed takeover bid involving Newcastle United FC and Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund has been withdrawn.

I appreciate many Newcastle fans were hoping this takeover bid would go ahead and can understand their sense of disappointment.

This was entirely a matter for the parties concerned, with no involvement from government.

Ministers did not hold any discussions with sports national governing bodies or sports rights holders on the potential sale of Newcastle United FC.

Any sale is a matter for the interested parties, and for the Premier League to assess under its owners’ and directors’ test.

I have seen the recent email sent to Newcastle fans from the Independent Football Ombudsman and agree with their conclusion that the Premier League should make a statement on this case.

I am pleased that the ombudsman has committed to advising the Premier League to make a statement. There must be clarity on why there was a significant delay in a decision being made, and on the reasons why the consortium decided to withdraw their bid.

Thank you for taking the time to contact me.

Yours sincerely, Boris Johnson MP

Analysis: What can be taken from Johnson’s words

- "No involvement from government..” – Johnson is keen to make it clear the United takeover decision is not one for the government to get involved in. He goes on to state none of his ministers have been involved in any discussions with regards this, not in public or on the record, at least. In many ways it is hard to see how the government will keep their hands clean of this subject, with those within the halls of power keen for the deal to pass, in order to maintain strong, unblemished relations with KSA, with whom Johnson is keen to strike an even closer relationship with in post-Brexit Britain. Essentially, he has to say ‘no govt. involvement’ if the deal decision is to remain and be seen independent of outside influence (yes, I get the irony of that statement).

- "...agree with their conclusion that the Premier League should make a statement on this case” – Johnson here is underlining he is keen for the Independent Football Ombudsman to advise the Premier League to clarify where the deal stands. He does not state he will write a letter demanding answers, as other MPs have done, but wants to see an outside body coax the top flight from behind their cloak of confidentiality. Of course, it must be remembered if, as they said they have, the buyers have properly withdrawn from this process, that cloak has largely been tossed aside and the league will be free from any legal bindings which prevent them from discussing the deal in public. If you’ve got nothing to hide, why not speak? Silence is breeding suspicion.

- “There must be clarity on why there was a significant delay in a decision being made...” – Johnson makes two distinct calls as the letter draws to a close. And this is where it really gets interesting from an NUFC takeover perspective. The PM calls for ‘clarity’ on why the Premier League spent 16 and a half weeks assessing the Saudi-financed bid, and were yet to come to a decision. We all want answers on this, but the next bit is more interesting, see below.

- “...and on the reasons why the consortium decided to withdraw their bid” – Now this bit could be taken one of two ways. Were this an open letter to both buyer, seller and governing body you could think Johnson was asking the consortium to explain their reasons themselves. This is not, though. He is talking in the context of the ombudsman and the Premier League. He wants to know from the PL why the buyers walked away. He is not just asking for clarity on timescales and delays, but for specifics from the league, as to why the buyers felt pushed to turn their back on a deal they so clearly want to progress.

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