Why getting tough on the European Super League could store up trouble for the Tories

The Conservatives would set a tricky precedent by intervening in one high-profile case of attempted monopoly.

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The government has pledged to do “whatever it takes” to prevent a breakaway European Super League involving six leading English football clubs, as Boris Johnson meets officials from the FA and Premier League and fans to discuss what can be done about the proposals, which have prompted widespread condemnation across politics.

Gavin Williamson, the Education Secretary, told interviewers this morning that the government isn’t ruling anything out in its fight to prevent the new Super League, including legislation or sanctions. Oliver Dowden, the Culture Secretary, mentioned similar high-stakes options in his statement yesterday, including German-style fan ownership, a windfall tax on English clubs that participate, or a ban on European clubs entering the UK to play matches – although the only concrete move so far has been to announce that the government has “no choice” but to, er, proceed with a fan-led review of football that was already a Conservative manifesto pledge. 

It is a political no-brainer to threaten to wield every single tool in the government’s arsenal against such a vastly unpopular move, one that would drastically change the enjoyment of following football, curb competition, and stop the downward flow of money from the most lucrative football clubs to the rest of the sport. That is especially the case with high-stakes elections on 6 May only a few weeks away.

But it is also plain that the government would rather not have to act on any of its proposals: not just because it would be preferable to resolve the matter without state involvement, but because it sets a politically tricky precedent for the Conservatives to intervene in one high-profile, unpopular case of attempted monopoly without pursuing this approach in other sectors. 

But that’s a problem for Future Boris and Future Conservatives, to rework a Simpsons phrase. Right now, the government, bolstered by support from everyone from Prince William to Sky News, is playing a game of chicken, hoping that the European Super League backs down first.

Ailbhe Rea is political correspondent at the New Statesman.

She co-hosts the New Statesman podcast, discussing the latest in UK politics.

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