SPORTS minister Nigel Huddleston was asked by MPs whether it would be appropriate for North Korea to buy a Premier League club in the future as he avoided commenting on the Saudi-led takeover of Newcastle.

The Premier League’s decision to sanction the £305m Newcastle deal last month was met with jubilation by many fans of the club but drew strong criticism from human rights groups.

The league said it had received legally-binding assurances that the Saudi state – which has an appalling human rights record and was implicated in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018 – would not have direct control of the club.

That is despite Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman being the chair of the Public Investment Fund which now owns an 80 per cent stake in the club. Amnesty International has called on the league to tighten up its owners’ and directors’ test to specifically cover human rights issues.

Huddleston was guarded when asked for his view on the Newcastle deal by members of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee yesterday.

“We have got to be very careful here about the role of Government,” he said. “Government doesn’t have a say in acquisitions of private sector entities unless there are legal concerns. In the case of Newcastle it was right for the football authorities to follow their appropriate processes, including the owners’ and directors’ test, which they did do.

“In terms of the elements of that test and what it includes, that is a live debate at the moment. I’m sure Tracey (Crouch) will be making recommendations on that as well. I do know this was a heated debate. I’m well aware of the issues on both sides.”

Committee chair Julian Knight asked Huddleston: “Let’s use the example of North Korea. North Korea comes in and tries to take over Crystal Palace, for instance. Because maybe (Kim Jong-un) just likes the colour of the kit. Would that be appropriate?”

Huddleston said: “I would want there to be a process. First of all there are broad legal aspects about who can invest in the UK and what we can invest in overseas. So there’s always a legal element to this in terms of international acquisitions.”