Boris Johnson threatens to use ‘legislative bomb’ to stop European Super League

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Peter Walker, Damien Gayle and Jessica Elgot
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Boris Johnson has promised football groups that the government will consider using what he called “a legislative bomb” to stop English clubs joining a breakaway European Super League, as official efforts to thwart the plan were stepped up.

The prime minister and Oliver Dowden, the sports and culture secretary, held a meeting with the heads of the Football Association and Premier League, as well as representatives of fans’ groups from Liverpool, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur, three of the clubs involved.

At one point, according to sources, Johnson told the event: “We should drop a legislative bomb to stop it – and we should do it now.”

According to a formal No 10 statement, the prime minister told the online meeting that he would give “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.

Downing Street said Johnson “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”.

Separately, No 10 confirmed that ministers would consider cutting off support for breakaway clubs in areas such as work visas for overseas players and the policing of matches as a way to exert pressure.

Johnson’s spokesperson declined to specify what possible moves could be taken, saying: “I don’t think you would expect me to have full, worked-out detail one day after that. But we’ve been clear that we are exploring a range of options, including legislative ones.”

Asked if areas such as work visas and policing were being considered, he said: “All these options are on the table at the moment.”

Addressing MPs on Monday, Dowden said the government’s first hope was that football authorities could stop the six English clubs – the other ones to sign up were Arsenal, Manchester City and Chelsea – from joining the midweek league alongside teams from Spain and Italy.

If that failed, Dowden had said, one option would be to refer the matter to competition authorities over the league’s non-competitive element, with only five of the planned 20 participants being selected annually on merit.

The Competition and Markets Authority watchdog has said it wouldcarefully consider the proposals for the super league, after Labour pressed for an investigation over whether the plans would breach laws to uphold fairness.

Other options include the withdrawal of official support, or longer-term measures to change the governance and ownership structures of English football, potentially including a rule like that used in Germany whereby fans’ groups are guaranteed a majority stake in clubs. No German sides have signed up to the ESL.

Related: The European Super League: what can Boris Johnson do about it?

The government has separately announced a wider review into the structure of English football, to be led by Tracey Crouch, the Conservative MP and former sports minister.

In a sign that this review could take a robust line, Crouch said on Tuesday that she would be perfectly happy for the Premier League to eject the six clubs if they did not change course.

Crouch told TalkRadio: “[In effect] they are tempting, or teasing, the likes of the Premier League, saying, ‘Well, come on them, if you think you can survive without us, then kick us out.’ Frankly, I’d say kick them out.”

Writing in the Sun on Tuesday morning, Johnson said he was horrified at the implications for clubs up and down the country that had a unique place at the heart of their communities.

The plan, which would create a new league bringing Liverpool, Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham together with the Spanish sides Atlético Madrid, Real Madrid and Barcelona and the Italian clubs AC Milan, Juventus and Inter Milan, has been condemned by the FA and the Premier League.

Protests took place outside English football grounds on Monday, with anger focused on overseas owners of the clubs, none of whom have come forward to justify the scheme.

The PA Media news agency reported that the Premier League had called its other 14 clubs to an emergency shareholders meeting on Tuesday morning to discuss the proposal.