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European Union (Withdrawal) Bill - Second Reading (2nd Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 12:16 pm on 31st January 2018.

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Photo of Lord Moynihan Lord Moynihan Conservative 12:16 pm, 31st January 2018

My Lords, sport and sport-related activity contribute some £20 billion of GVA and 400,000 full-time equivalent jobs. It therefore makes a greater contribution than such sectors as the sale and repair of motor vehicles and accounting. Yet a great deal of the sports policy framework under which the EU operates is based on a global lex sportiva, to which sport has to have due regard. This requires agreement with international and national federations that govern the rules of sport and approve government-to-sport relationships. The proposal to move existing legislation from the European Union into the framework of this Bill will be fraught with difficulty because it does not take into account lex sportiva or the international and national federations.

Let me give noble Lords some examples. Take the Kolpak rule, the loss of which would mean that players from countries which have an associate trade agreement with the EU would no longer have the same rights as UK players. Currently, the Kolpak rule applies to those players who hold an EU passport, who are married to an EU or EEA national, or who come under the Kolpak ruling. These players are not currently classified as foreign, and that is recognised in the quota system used by professional sports in the United Kingdom. Governing bodies such as the RFU, which has the responsibility for issuing endorsements to rugby union players outside the EU and EEA, have stated that they cannot even look at their regulations regarding overseas players until the terms of Brexit have been confirmed. This causes uncertainty for clubs signing multiyear contracts, and currently affects 72 eligible players. Another example is the Cotonou agreement, a treaty between the EU and a group of states including South Africa, Fiji, Samoa and Tonga, whose rugby players could, at present, play for a British-based team and not count towards the foreign player quota.

Without membership of the EU, the Kolpak rule goes. Saracens, which has 14 such players, could be particularly hard hit. Cricket, through the ECB, has also said that it is waiting to hear from the Home Office. Have the Government reached agreement with the relevant governing bodies of sport as well as with the EU? Uncertainty destabilises the market. Cricketers are working under the assumption that any deal signed before the end of 2017 will not be affected by Brexit, but will they?

Article 19 of the FIFA regulations on the status and transfer of players internationally is currently limited by FIFA to those over the age of 18. However, there is an exception within the territory of the European Union for players aged between 16 and 18. Post Brexit, this exemption would no longer be available for British clubs. We have 70 players in this category and who would be ineligible, thus denying us an important pipeline of young talent and putting us at a disadvantage to European clubs. Yet as part of lex sportiva, it is FIFA and the EU that must decide. What discussions have the Government had with FIFA to secure the continuation of the exemption, the loss of which would hit the lower league clubs particularly hard?

Will the Government clarify the impact of EU state aid legislation, which prohibits member states from favouring one market participant over another? Do the Government intend to transfer these restrictions into UK law or, as I hope, allow for new rules to open up the potential for public bodies to subsidise stadium developments and other major sporting infrastructure projects? That would be far reaching.

Finally, given that the free movement directive would no longer apply and migration of EU nationals would become subject to UK law, do the Government intend to subject the same rules that currently apply to individuals outside the EU and the EEA to football clubs throughout the United Kingdom? If so, 332 players would not meet the current requirements that non-EU and non-EEA players must meet. Will every athlete with current citizenship in one of the EU or EEA membership states require a work permit? The Chancellor, Philip Hammond—whose view on Brexit, incidentally, I totally endorse—stated that there was no likelihood that new immigration controls would apply to highly skilled and highly paid workers. Will the Minister confirm that all professional footballers, including in the lower leagues, would fit into that category? Will the Government confirm that post-Brexit the Bosman ruling will no longer apply in the United Kingdom?

The consequences for professional sport flow through to the amateur ranks. The House has an excellent record of influencing sports policy. Only yesterday—and I thank them—the Government had clearly listened to the close vote on the future role of the UK anti-doping agency during the GDPR votes shortly before Christmas, giving UKAD a welcome extra £6 million over two years and promising to revise its powers by September. Delegated powers to modify retained EU law—not just to correct it, but to make substantial new provisions and remedy changes to our international obligations—will be urgently required if we are to protect the competitive position and the future success of the sports sector in this country, which I believe is critical.