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Johnson reportedly intervened to rescue Saudi deal to buy Newcastle United

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson returns to 10 Downing Street from hosting a coronavirus press conference in the briefing room at 9 Downing Street London, United Kingdom on 5 April 2021. [David Cliff - Anadolu Agency]
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson returns to 10 Downing Street from hosting a coronavirus press conference in the briefing room at 9 Downing Street London, United Kingdom on 5 April 2021. [David Cliff - Anadolu Agency]

With British politicians being scrutinised over their lobbying activities, reports have emerged that Prime Minister Boris Johnson intervened after Saudi Arabia's bid to buy Newcastle United football club ran into difficulties. According to the Daily Mail, Johnson asked one of his top aides to investigate after Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman warned that a row over the sale of the Premier League club could damage relations between London and Riyadh,.

The controversial prince is said to have asked the prime minister to "correct and reconsider" a "wrong" decision by the Premier League, which was accused of standing in the way of a £300 million ($413m) deal to sell the club to the Saudi Public Investment Fund.

Government officials acknowledge that talks had taken place between Foreign Office officials and the Premier League at the league's request, but Number 10 has denied claims that Johnson intervened.

Read: UK amends status of Israel and Jerusalem following pressure from pro-Israel lobby

The report comes as British politicians face intense scrutiny over foreign lobbying following the revelation that former Prime Minister David Cameron went on a desert camping holiday with Bin Salman despite Western intelligence agencies naming the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia as the man who ordered the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Cameron was apparently acting on behalf of an investment company called Greensill at the time. He also put pressure on Chancellor Rishi Sunak to give a government grant to the company.

Former Foreign Office Minister Sir Alan Duncan has also accused pro-Israel lobbyists of "the most disgusting interference" in British politics and of having a negative influence on UK Middle East policy. The veteran politician has also claimed that lobby group Conservative Friends of Israel (CFI) went "ballistic" and blocked him from taking on a new post covering the region's affairs, primarily due to his support for Palestinian rights.

CFI's influence within Westminster also came to light yesterday when Johnson replied to a letter from the pro-Israel lobby group explaining that the British government is opposed to the International Criminal Court investigation of Israel for war crimes allegedly committed in the occupied Palestinian territories. Palestinian factions will also be investigated.

"This marks a low point in UK-Palestine relations and undermines the UK's credibility on the international stage," said the Palestinian Mission in London. "The letter is a contradiction of international law. It is a contradiction of British policy. It subverts the rules-based global order. And it sets back efforts to secure a lasting and just peace in Palestine."

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