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Gary Lineker hits back after being told to stick to football over Rwanda views

BBC presenter Gary Lineker has hit back after being criticised for urging the government to scrap its Rwanda asylum scheme .

The Match of the Day presenter signed a letter, along with dozens of celebrities and high-profile figures, calling for a new asylum system that “reflects the will of the British people”.

It comes after the £140m plan was struck down by the Supreme Court for creating a “real risk” of leaving refugees open to human rights breaches.

The open letter said: “We need a new system that reflects the will of the British people who have opened their homes, donated and volunteered in their local communities. That’s why I’m backing this new campaign, because fair really can begin here.”

But defence secretary Grant Shapps said he “fundamentally disagreed” with Lineker and urged him to stick to TV instead of expressing his views.

Defence secretary Grant Shapps said Lineker should stick to TV instead of expressing his views (PA Wire)
Defence secretary Grant Shapps said Lineker should stick to TV instead of expressing his views (PA Wire)

“What is right or moral about having people trafficked dangerously across the English Channel, losing their lives at sea, illegally entering the country? That is not a civilised, morally correct thing to do,” Mr Shapps said.

“I just fundamentally disagree with him. I know millions of people watch him for his football commentary and TV presenting, I would have thought it’s better to stick with that.”

Lineker retaliated by tweeting a photograph of Mr Shapps with his name under it alongside three more images of the politician with the names Michael Green, Corinne Stockheath and Sebastian Fox used instead.

Lineker wrote: “A tad rich coming from someone who can’t even stick to one name. 4 chaps Shapps.”

Mr Shapps was previously accused of breaching the code of conduct for ministers and MPs by continuing to work as a marketer of get-rich-quick schemes under the pseudonym Michael Green after entering parliament.

He has also been accused of using the pseudonyms Sebastian Fox and Corinne Stockheath.

A BBC spokesperson said that individuals should be “civil”, adding: “We discuss issues that arise with presenters as necessary.”

Former England footballer Lineker was among a group of celebrities to sign a letter calling for the government to scrap its Rwanda scheme and for political leaders to come up with a ‘fair new plan for refugees’ (PA) (PA Wire)
Former England footballer Lineker was among a group of celebrities to sign a letter calling for the government to scrap its Rwanda scheme and for political leaders to come up with a ‘fair new plan for refugees’ (PA) (PA Wire)

Earlier this year, Lineker was at the centre of a BBC impartiality row after he voiced criticism of a new government asylum seeker policy.

He was briefly asked by the broadcaster to take a step back from Match Of The Day but returned after fellow pundits boycotted various BBC sports shows in solidarity.

The scandal led to the BBC strengthening social media guidelines for staff on issues of impartiality and civility.

Conservative MP Jonathan Gullis accused Lineker of breaching the BBC’s impartiality rules on X, formerly Twitter.

The TV presenter replied: “Jonathan hasn’t read the new guidelines….or, should I say, had someone read them to him?”

Meanwhile, Downing Street said Rishi Sunak will not be “distracted” by Lineker’s criticism of the Rwanda plan.

Asked if Mr Sunak is surprised that one of the BBC’s biggest stars is speaking out on politics again, the PM’s official spokesman said those questions “are for Mr Lineker himself and, obviously, for the BBC”.

“But we will not be distracted from the vital need to stop the boats and secure this Bill,” he added.

Responding to the criticism of Lineker, a BBC spokesperson said: “Like all freelance presenters, Gary is free to contribute to projects for third parties, as long as these do not conflict with his BBC commitments; do not breach guidelines on conflicts of interest; nor bring the BBC into disrepute, and he does so regularly.”

The spokesperson later added: “We aren’t going to comment on individuals or indeed individual tweets.

“While the guidance does allow people to talk about issues that matter to them, it is also clear that individuals should be civil and not call into question anyone’s character.

“We discuss issues that arise with presenters as necessary.”

The government’s new Rwanda bill would order British judges and courts to ignore some sections of the UK Human Rights Act to allow for the deportation of asylum seekers to the African country.

Under the plan, asylum seekers that arrive in Britain would be sent to Rwanda for processing where they could either be granted refugee status or allowed to stay.

If not, they could apply to settle there on other grounds or seek asylum in another “safe third country”. So far, no asylum seekers have been sent there.

The former head of the British army Richard Dannatt and actor Brian Cox also joined Lineker in calling for a new asylum system.

Mr Dannatt said: “The dogged pursuit of the unpopular plan to send people seeking protection to Rwanda is astonishing.”

Cox, 77, added: “The UK’s asylum system is in a shambles, not least with the government’s continued attempts to push through the awful scheme to send people to Rwanda.”