Boris Johnson has been urged to reveal whether he signalled his endorsement of the European Super League (ESL) when he met the chief executive of one of the English football clubs leading the breakaway in Downing Street days before it was unveiled.
After the ESL plan was officially announced, the UK prime minister said he was firmly against the idea of what he said amounted to a “cartel”, and has said he found out the surprise news at the same time as everyone else.
However, it was later revealed that Ed Woodward, the chief executive of Manchester United, was invited for a meeting with the prime minister's chief of staff, Dan Rosenfield, in No 10 days before the announcement, and briefly spoke to Johnson.
After the Sunday Times reported that sources said Woodward departed with the wrong impression that Johnson was in favour of the proposal, UK Labour has said the prime minister has “questions to answer”.
Jo Stevens, the shadow culture secretary, has written to the cabinet secretary, Simon Case, to renew her call for any minutes and correspondence concerning the meeting to be made public.
She has asked when the meeting was arranged, why, who else was present, and whether Johnson or other government figures have recently met representatives of the other five clubs that were poised to join the Super League before they pulled out following a fierce public backlash: Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City.
Stevens said: “Yet again, Johnson’s integrity and honesty are in question,” adding: “The public has a right to know what exactly was promised to Manchester United by both officials and the prime minister.
“If Johnson gave the European Super League his backing and then publicly turned on the plan then the British people deserve a full, clear and immediate explanation and apology.”
Government sources have strenuously denied Johnson had any knowledge of the plan and said the prime minister’s conversation with Woodward was a short, chance encounter as they bumped into each other in a corridor in No 10.
In the days of controversy before the six clubs U-turned on their breakaway, Johnson was keen to burnish his opposition to the idea, threatening to drop “a legislative bomb” to forcibly prevent one of the biggest challenges ever seen to the footballing pyramid.
He said: “How can it be right when you have a situation where you create a kind of cartel that stops clubs competing against each other?”
Johnson condemned the idea that clubs could be “dislocated from their home cities, taken and turned into international brands and commodities that just circulate the planet, propelled by the billions of banks, without any reference to the fans and those who have loved them all their lives”.
Downing Street also said Johnson had sent his “unwavering support” to football authorities over the issue, and condemned the ESL’s “closed shop” plan, under which 15 of the 20 league members would have permanent status and be free from the risk of relegation.
It added that the prime minister “was clear that no action is off the table and the government is exploring every possibility, including legislative options, to ensure these proposals are stopped”.
Labour had stood poised to support plans to introduce legislation, if it were necessary and the clubs had refused to heed the wishes of an overwhelming number of fans. "If the government is determined to do something about it, we will back them," said the Labour leader, Keir Starmer. "There is no block in parliament to action if action is needed." - Guardian