Boris Johnson has said he is ready to “drop a legislative bomb” to stop six English football clubs joining a breakaway European “super league”.
It is understood the prime minister told football officials at a Downing Street briefing that the European Super League (ESL) proposals were “anti-competitive” and that he was ready to change the law to stop it.
Johnson and culture secretary Oliver Dowden met representatives from the Football Association, the Premier League and football fan groups to discuss action against the breakaway.
The PM at one point told the meeting: “We should drop a legislative bomb to stop it – and we should do it now.”
Following the meeting, Downing Street said in a statement that the PM “confirmed the government will not stand by while a small handful of owners create a closed shop”.
“He 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,” it said.
Downing Street also said Johnson would welcome any of the six clubs – Manchester United, Liverpool, Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal and Spurs – stepping back from the highly controversial plan, amid reports that two clubs are wavering.
The PM’s official spokesperson told reporters: “I think we’re fairly unequivocal that we don’t want this to go ahead in the current form, so we would welcome any club that wants to step back from this approach but I think, as far as I’m aware, that’s speculation at this stage.”
The spokesperson suggested the government was “keen” to speak to ministers in Spain and Italy, which also have clubs trying to join the ESL.
And they said stopping players involved in the breakaway clubs getting work visas or withdrawing police funding for match days were among the “options on the table” for the government.
The Competition and Markets Authority is considering whether to open an investigation into whether the ESL could break competition law.
The government has also triggered a fan-led review of football and is considering imposing a windfall tax on the breakaway clubs.
The decision of 12 European heavyweight teams to create a “closed shop” competition without promotion, relegation or open qualification has been met with a fierce backlash from fans, players, politicians and the football authorities.
Critics believe it would fundamentally distort competition in Europe for the benefit of the richest few clubs.
Aleksander Ceferin, president of European football governing body Uefa, has urged the breakaway clubs to “come to their senses”.
“Gentlemen, you made a huge mistake,” he told the Uefa congress in Montreux, Switzerland.
“What matters is that there is still time to change your mind. Everyone makes mistakes.
“Come to your senses, not out of love for football, because I imagine some of you don’t have much of that, but out of respect for those who bleed themselves dry so that they can go to the stadium to support the team and want the dream to be kept alive.”
Fifa president Gianni Infantino meanwhile hinted that players involved could be banned from the body’s competitions, including the World Cup.
“If some elect to go their own way then they must live with the consequences of their choice. They are responsible for their choice,” he told the congress.
“Concretely, this means either you’re in or you’re out. You cannot be half in or half out.”
Among the other sanctions under consideration by the authorities is expelling the clubs involved from the European Champions League, which the ESL is designed to effectively supplant, or their domestic leagues.
The other 14 English Premier League sides are meeting to discuss a way forward following the weekend’s developments.