“The Government was not involved at any point in the takeover talks on the sale of Newcastle United.”

Boris Johnson, Written questions, answers and statements

April 19, 2022

Facts

Johnson stated in a parliamentary answer to the Newcastle Central MP, Chi Onwurah, in April 2021: “The government was not involved at any point in the takeover talks on the sale of Newcastle.” This statement was undermined by a later  Guardian investigation which revealed that Boris Johnson’s government worked for months to encourage the Premier League to approve the Saudi takeover of Newcastle. 

According to the Guardian “ extensive efforts to facilitate the deal, led by Johnson’s minister for investment, Lord Gerry Grimstone, were made despite the government, and Johnson, repeatedly saying publicly that they had no involvement in the takeover talks.

“Grimstone became involved in discussions with the then Premier League chairman Gary Hoffman, and Saudi representatives, apparently up to the office of the crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, to try to help secure a takeover the government considered to be in the UK’s strategic and economic interests. 

“Grimstone’s work appears to have extended as far as trying to broker a solution to the Saudi piracy of Premier League and other sports TV rights bought by the Qatari broadcaster BeIN, which was seen as a barrier to the takeover being approved.”

The Guardian added that “Responding to questions about Grimstone’s involvement, a spokesperson at the Department for International Trade (DIT) confirmed that the minister did speak to Hoffman, “as part of the countless conversations he has in his ministerial role”, but said he had “never tried to influence Mr Hoffman and the Premier League to approve the Newcastle takeover”.

“The Guardian then asked Grimstone and the DIT why it was part of his ministerial role to discuss the takeover, whether Grimstone was also discussing it with senior Saudi officials up to Prince Mohammed’s office, and seeking to help broker solutions to the piracy and other perceived problems. The spokesperson did not answer those questions directly, but said: “Part of the minister’s role in his capacity as investment minister is to, amongst other things, keep abreast of large investments potentially coming into the UK, hence his high-level engagement with relevant stakeholders.”

“Asked to explain what the “high-level engagement” was, and who the “relevant stakeholders” were, Grimstone and the DIT did not respond.”

Verdict

Boris Johnson’s claim that “The Government was not involved at any point in the takeover talks on the sale of Newcastle United” is impossible to reconcile with facts discovered by the Guardian. We conclude that the Prime Minister misled the House of Commons.  According to the Ministerial Code,  “It is of paramount importance that Ministers give accurate and truthful information to Parliament, correcting any inadvertent error at the earliest opportunity.” 

We approached Boris Johnson's office, No10 Press Office and the Cabinet Office to give them a chance to comment, but received no response.

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