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Newcastle United: UK blocks details of Premier League talks to protect Saudi relations

The UK government is refusing to reveal what it told the Premier League about the Saudi-backed takeover of Newcastle United because it could "harm" relations with Saudi Arabia.

The government says it did not get involved in the deal, which has been criticised by human rights activists.

But the Foreign Office is known to have held meetings with the Premier League to discuss it.

The BBC asked for details of these meetings under Freedom of Information.

The Foreign Office responded with a redacted copy of the agenda for one meeting, which took place on 14 May 2020, and a redacted copy of the minutes of another meeting on 10 June 2020.

However, it declined to provide further details requested by the BBC, including a list of attendees and the full minutes.

In its letter to the BBC in March this year, the Foreign Office said: "We acknowledge that releasing information on this issue would increase public knowledge about our relations with Saudi Arabia."

But officials added: "The disclosure of information detailing our relationship with the Saudi government could potentially damage the bilateral relationship between the UK and Saudi Arabia.

"This would reduce the UK government's ability to protect and promote UK interests through its relations with Saudi Arabia which would not be in the public interest."

The government confirmed that the meeting on 14 May was attended by representatives from the Foreign Office, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, the Department for International Trade and the Premier League.

The 10 June meeting was between the Foreign Office and the Premier League.

The redacted minutes of that meeting say there was uncertainty about the "exact timeline for a PL [Premier League] decision" but it was "becoming closer".

It added that the Premier League was "committed" to keeping the government "informed both at a working-level [redacted]".

On Thursday, the Premier League approved the takeover of Newcastle United after receiving "legally binding" assurances that Saudi Arabia would not control the club.

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