Lineker hits back after being criticised for expressing views on Rwanda scheme

Gary Lineker has hit back at Grant Shapps after the Defence Secretary asked if the Match Of The Day host should express political views.

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”.

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

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Defence Secretary Grant Shapps (PA)

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.

On Monday, Lineker was joined by high-profile figures including Succession star Brian Cox in signing a letter calling Britain’s refugee system “ever-more uncaring, chaotic and costly” and saying asylum policies are not working.

After the statement, Mr Shapps told Times Radio he does not feel Lineker should be expressing such views as a prominent BBC presenter.

He said: “He’s been through all of this before. The BBC have told him he shouldn’t do this type of thing but still it continues.

“The point I would make to Mr Lineker is: 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.”

He added: “I just fundamentally disagree with him. What happens to him next is up to the BBC.

“As far as I see it, they have issued previous warnings to him, so it’ll be interesting to see what they do and say at this point.

“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.”

Pundit 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.

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 Prime Minister’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 letter, also signed by women’s rights campaigner Helen Pankhurst, Hotel Rwanda star Sophie Okonedo and television chef Big Zuu, who is the son of a refugee from Sierra Leone, comes in the week MPs will debate and vote on the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill.

The Government hopes to rush emergency legislation through Parliament declaring Rwanda a safe destination for asylum seekers, after the Supreme Court last month ruled against the scheme.

The correspondence, co-ordinated by campaign coalition Together With Refugees, said: “Our Government is still trying to banish people fleeing persecution to Rwanda despite the highest court in the land ruling the scheme unlawful.

“Tens of thousands of people are stuck in limbo waiting for their refugee protection to be processed, separated from their families and barred from working.

“These policies aren’t working for refugees and they aren’t working for local communities.

“That’s why we have come together to say we’ve had enough. Enough of the division. Enough of the short-term thinking. Enough of the wasted human potential. And it’s why we now call for something better.”

Signatories said they are “calling on you, our political leaders of all parties, to commit to a fair new plan for refugees” which includes upholding the UK’s commitment under international law to the right to claim asylum and scrapping the Rwanda scheme.

The letter, marking the launch of the coalition’s Fair Begins Here campaign, also urged a “proper strategy for welcoming and integrating refugees” through “fair, rapid decisions on their application for asylum” and stronger global co-operation “to tackle the root causes that force people to flee their homes and provides positive solutions when they do, including through safe routes to refugee protection”.