Earlier this month, media reports said Boris Johnson had asked Lord Udny-Lister to investigate Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s alleged complaint that the Premier League was blocking Riyadh’s takeover bid for the Newcastle United Football Club.
Downing Street has announced that Lord Udny-Lister is stepping down as UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s special envoy to the Gulf, in a move that comes just two months after he was nominated for the post.
A Downing Street spokesperson praised the 71-year-old as “an outstanding servant to the country”, adding that Johnson “is hugely grateful for Lord Lister’s dedicated service over many years”.
Lord Udny-Lister served as Johnson’s chief of staff when he was mayor of London and was brought into Downing Street as chief strategy adviser when Johnson became UK prime minister in 2019.
Lister’s resignation comes a few weeks after media reports that Johnson asked the Gulf envoy to look into a takeover bid for Newcastle United, allegedly backed by Saudi Arabia.
According to the Daily Mail, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman urged Johnson in a letter in 2020 to “correct and reconsider” a “wrong” decision made by the Premier League, which is accused of blocking a £300 million ($416 million) takeover of Newcastle United.
The crown prince reportedly warned the prime minister that unless the situation was reversed, UK-Saudi ties would suffer. “We expect the English Premier League to reconsider and correct its wrong conclusion”, he said.
The complaint was ostensibly taken up by Lord Lister, a Middle East specialist, who allegedly said that he would “investigate” the matter.
This was followed by a statement by Johnson’s official spokesman Max Blain, who admitted to Lister being asked by the prime minister to check out the progress of the Newcastle takeover bid, but stressed that there was no government interference in the issue.
“The prime minister asked Lord Lister to check on the progress of the talks as a potential major foreign investment in the UK. He didn’t ask him to intervene. The prime minister didn’t intervene. The government was not involved in any point in these takeover talks”, Blain pointed out.
The reports about Johnson’s alleged involvement in the Newcastle deal come after former UK Prime Minister David Cameron was accused of lobbying Boris Johnson’s government on behalf of the private firm Greensill Capital, which was once a major financier of UK steel production.