Gary Lineker says he stands by criticism of Government’s immigration policy
Gary Lineker has said he stands by his criticism of the Government’s immigration policy and does not fear suspension by the BBC.
It came as the Culture Secretary described the Match Of The Day presenter’s comments as “disappointing and inappropriate” and said it is important for the BBC to maintain impartiality if it is to “retain the trust of the public who pay the licence fee”.
Lineker, 62, has faced criticism from members of the Conservative Party after comparing the language used to launch the policy with 1930s Germany. However, support has come from media figures including Piers Morgan and Sky News commentator Adam Boulton.
Lineker told reporters “Yes, I would like to say something, very good morning to you” as he walked to a waiting car outside his London home on Thursday morning.
As he walked round the back of the car, he said “No” when asked if he fears suspension over his tweets.
Then, as he climbed into the rear passenger seat, he responded to a reporter asking if he has spoken to the BBC, saying: “I’m always talking to the BBC.”
Asked if he has spoken to the director-general, he said, after a pause, “Yeah”, before adding: “He said… well, we chat often”.
Before closing the door, he was asked if he regretted his tweet, responding “No”, and, asked if he stood by it, said “Course”.
A BBC source previously told the PA news agency the corporation is taking the matter “seriously” and expects to have a “frank conversation” with Lineker.
Speaking in the Commons earlier on Thursday, Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer said it is important for the BBC to maintain impartiality if it is to “retain the trust of the public who pay the licence fee”.
She added: “As somebody whose grandmother escaped Nazi Germany in the 1930s, I think it’s really disappointing and inappropriate to compare government policy on immigration to events in Germany in the 1930s.”
Ms Frazer added that she is “pleased” the BBC will be speaking to Lineker “to remind him of his responsibilities in relation to social media”.
Gregory Campbell, DUP MP for East Londonderry, later called for “lefty Lineker” to face a salary reduction.
Last year the former England footballer was named as the BBC’s top earning on-air talent for the fifth consecutive year, and was paid between £1,350,000 and £1,354,999 in 2021/2022 for Match Of The Day and Sports Personality Of The Year.
Speaking on the BBC’s Political Thinking podcast, Home Secretary Suella Braverman said “flippant analogies” linked to her asylum policy like the one used by Lineker “diminishes the unspeakable tragedy” of the Holocaust.
She said: “I think it is, from a personal point of view… to hear that characterisation is offensive because, as you said, my husband is Jewish, my children are therefore directly descendant from people who were murdered in gas chambers during the Holocaust.
“And my husband’s family is very… feels very keenly the impact of the Holocaust actually.”
Speaking on Times Radio, Roger Mosey, formerly head of BBC television news and director of sport, said his “sympathies” lie with Lineker’s “side of this argument”.
However, he added the problem with allowing him to express his views openly is it would allow other BBC employees to question why they are not entitled to give their opinions on issues.
“If you receive £1.4 million from the BBC, you need to abide by the BBC’s rules,” he said.
“And in the case of presenters – and Gary’s the face of the World Cup and he’s the face of Match Of The Day – it clearly would be better for the BBC if he wasn’t on one side of the referendum debate and if he wasn’t criticising current serving politicians.”
BBC director-general Tim Davie warned staff about their use of social media when he took on the role at the end of 2020, and guidelines around social media use have since been updated.
Staff were told they need to follow editorial guidelines and editorial oversight in the same way as when doing BBC content.
On Tuesday, Lineker wrote on Twitter about a Home Office video in which Ms Braverman unveiled the Government’s plans to stop migrants crossing the Channel on small boats and said the UK is being “overwhelmed”.
The ex-England striker wrote: “There is no huge influx. We take far fewer refugees than other major European countries.
“This is just an immeasurably cruel policy directed at the most vulnerable people in language that is not dissimilar to that used by Germany in the ’30s.”
He later responded to the criticism on Twitter, writing that he had never known such “love and support” and promised to “continue to try and speak up for those poor souls that have no voice”.
Lineker is a freelance broadcaster for the BBC, not a permanent member of staff, and is not responsible for news or political content so does not need to adhere to the same rules on impartiality.
A representative for Lineker declined to comment further.