Newcastle United’s £305m sale to the Saudis has been “treated as an emblem of English football’s moral descent”, says Simon Kuper in the Financial Times. But why single out football when so much of our economy revolves around “welcoming dirty money”? Places such as Mayfair and Kensington are overflowing with well-heeled professionals who “make their living servicing rich criminals”: fund managers, libel lawyers, estate agents, PR advisers, sellers of luxury goods, private-school headmasters, art dealers. And the rot goes right to the top. Last year David Cameron and his former business partner Lex Greensill were pictured trying to woo the Saudi Arabian crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, in a desert tent. Then there’s the £20bn in arms sold by Britain to Saudi Arabia since the Saudis began their war in Yemen in 2015. There’s a reason why Italian mafia expert Roberto Saviano calls Britain “the most corrupt country in the world”.
Sadly, this unseemly national habit is only going to get worse. Foreign investment has fallen off a cliff since 2016. British heritage, from country houses to football clubs, is about all that foreigners value here now. And that inevitably includes foreigners we’d rather not dirty our hands with. Comedian Mark Steel joked: “If Isis had been smart, instead of blowing stuff up, they’d have bought our football clubs. Then most people in the country would praise them as heroes and saviours.” The depressing thing is, he’s probably right.