UK football would have to face "devastating consequences" if Britain broke away from the EU, Baroness Karren Brady has warned. The West Ham United vice president and pro-EU campaigner has written to the chairs of all professional clubs in the UK.
The Conservative peer argued, among other things, that the free movement of people inside the 28-nation bloc enables "top talent" from the EU to sign for UK clubs without needing visas or special work permits. Almost 200 Premier League footballers already benefit from this arrangement, according to Brady.
The Apprentice star also claimed football fans get "huge" benefits from the UK's membership of the EU. "Being part of Europe's single markets means fans on European away days don't face any visa fees, make flights cheaper, cuts the cost of phone-calls from abroad and new EU rules also allow for access to UK streaming services across the continent," Brady argued.
But Vote Leave, one of the two groups vying for the official Brexit campaign nomination from the Electoral Commission, described Brady's claims as "utter nonsense and should be shown the red card".
Rob Oxley, head of media for Vote Leave, added: "[Britain Stronger in Europe] are scaremongering over the national game and fans shouldn't stand for it. Our EU membership prevents us from implementing policies that nurture domestic talent and stop us bringing in oversees players, that's the worst of both worlds."
The debate between the EU referendum campaigns comes as David Cameron is set to meet with European Commission president Jean Claude-Juncker in Brussels on 29 January. Reports have claimed the British prime minister is looking to wrap up his renegotiation with Brussels and hold the historic in/out vote in June.
The latest opinion poll from ICM for The Guardian, of more than 2,000 people between 15 and 17 January, put "remain" two points ahead of "leave" (42% versus 40%, respectively).