IF the British public elects to leave the European Union in the upcoming ‘Brexit’ referendum, the Premier League could suffer according to Tory peer and vice-chairperson of West Ham United, Karren Brady.
The Baroness, known as the ‘first lady of football’, issued written warning to club chairmen arguing that “cutting ourselves off from Europe would have devastating consequences” for the competitiveness of British football.
Her claim hinges on the notion that roughly two-thirds of players from EU nations may not meet the necessary visa criteria and thus be forced to leave, while new signings would encounter bureaucratic frustrations.
Aimed at all professional clubs across the UK, her letter posits the free movement of citizens enshrined in the European framework as a key factor in the League’s success.
“Players from the EU can sign for UK clubs without needing a visa or special work permit, making it quicker and easier to secure top talent from across Europe to come and play in our leagues.
“Indeed, there are nearly 200 Premier League footballers alone who have benefited from this arrangement. Leaving the EU could have a big impact on foreign players, as independent analysis has shown that two-thirds of European stars in England would not meet automatic non-EU visa criteria and therefore might be forced to leave.”
She goes on to claim that fans will also foot the bill by having to stump up extra for visas and possibly more expensive flights, while lamenting the likely uncertainty engendered by such a move.
There are more than 160 players from the EU and European Economic Area (EEA) in the Premier League. A Guardian study found that around two thirds would not have met the criteria currently used for non-Europeans to get a work visa automatically.
New FA rules, supported by the Home Office, have tightened the grip on border control by making it substantially more difficult for non-Europeans to receive a work visa, with a points based system introduced that accepts only nationally capped players, among other restrictions.
Players such as David de Gea, Juan Mata, Anthony Martial, Simon Mignolet, and Samir Nasri would be unable to get automatic work visas were they to be treated under the new system.
Whether the money involved might ensure a different avenue for footballers than other migrant workers would raise complex legal issues as to whether such a move was discriminatory and might lead to a two tier immigration system.
The FA is non committal on its position on EU membership, although it would certainly be keen to develop more home-grown talent. The legal ambiguities are unsettled as of yet, and to a great extent opinions are coloured by political persuasion.
Baroness Brady is, somewhat unsurprisingly, also on the board of Britain Stronger in Europe, which is currently campaigning for the UK to remain within the EU.