Gary Lineker to present BBC show despite outrage over migrant law tweet

Ex-England striker compared official UK language to launch the policy with that of 1930s Germany

Gary Lineker's comments on the government's new asylum policy have sparked a backlash but he has support from various public figures. AP
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Gary Lineker has announced he will present his regular weekend Match of the Day programme after refusing to withdraw his criticism of the government's new immigration policy, which led to calls for his sacking.

Mr Lineker, 62, attracted criticism from the Conservative Party by comparing the language used to launch the policy with that of 1930s Germany when the Nazi Party was taking control.

Home Secretary Suella Braverman condemned his comments, which she said “diminished” the deaths of six million people, mainly Jews, who were killed by the Nazis.

The football presenter declared the worst of the row was over, however, in a Thursday afternoon tweet. "Happy that this ridiculously out of proportion story seems to be abating and very much looking forward to presenting @BBCMOTD on Saturday," he said.

New legislation unveiled on Tuesday will make asylum claims from those who travel to the UK on small boats automatically illegal, with migrants removed to a third country and banned from returning or claiming citizenship. Ms Braverman, who introduced the bill, on Thursday said she agreed Mr Lineker had gone too far.

"To hear that characterisation is offensive because — as you said — my husband is Jewish, my children are therefore directly descended from people who were murdered in gas chambers during the Holocaust," she said. "And my husband’s family feels very keenly the impact of the Holocaust, actually."

Mr Lineker shared a post on Twitter on Tuesday which said: "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."

The former England striker later responded to the criticism on Twitter, saying 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".

The Culture Secretary, Lucy Frazer, described the Match Of The Day presenter's comments as "disappointing and inappropriate" and said it was important for the BBC to maintain impartiality if it was to "retain the trust of the public who pay the licence fee".

But Mr Lineker has also received significant backing from public figures, including Piers Morgan and Sky News commentator Adam Boulton.

Mr 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 feared suspension over his tweets.

Then, as he climbed into the rear passenger seat, he responded to a reporter asking if he had spoken to the BBC, saying: "I'm always talking to the BBC."

Asked if he had 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 said he stood by it.

A BBC source previously told the PA news agency the corporation was taking the matter seriously and expects to have a "frank conversation" with Mr Lineker.

Speaking in the Commons earlier on Thursday, Ms Frazer said: "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."

She encouraged the BBC to speak to Mr Lineker "to remind him of his responsibilities in relation to social media".

Leader of the Commons Penny Mordaunt took aim at the Labour Party, which also criticised the immigration policy, saying the opposition "borrowed from Lineker’s playbook".

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, Ms Braverman said "flippant analogies" linked to her asylum policy such the one used by Mr Lineker "diminishes the unspeakable tragedy" of the Holocaust.

Mr 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 its rules on impartiality.

A representative for Mr Lineker declined to comment further.

Updated: March 13, 2023, 6:42 AM