Gary Lineker will “step back” from presenting until an agreement is reached on his use of social media following an impartiality row sparked by his criticism of the British government’s new asylum policy, the BBC said Friday.
The former England footballer, who presents the flagship Match of the Day show, compared the language used to launch the new policy to the rhetoric of Nazi-era Germany.
A BBC spokesperson said, “The BBC has been in extensive discussions with Gary and his team in recent days. We have said that we consider his recent social media activity to be a breach of our guidelines.
“The BBC has decided that he will step back from presenting Match Of The Day until we’ve got an agreed and clear position on his use of social media.”
The row was sparked by Lineker’s response on Twitter to a video in which Home Secretary Suella Braverman unveiled plans to stop migrants crossing the Channel on small boats.
Lineker, 62, 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.”
The Conservative government intends to outlaw asylum claims by all illegal arrivals and transfer them elsewhere, such as Rwanda, in a bid to stop thousands of migrants from crossing the Channel on small boats.
Stopping the boats is the “people’s priority”, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak told the House of Commons earlier this week, vowing also to “break the criminal gangs” profiting from the journeys.
– Rights fears –
But rights groups and the United Nations said the legislation would make Britain an international outlaw under European and UN conventions on asylum.
Lineker tweeted on Thursday that he was “very much looking forward” to presenting Match Of The Day on Saturday.
He previously told reporters outside his London home that he stood by his criticism of the immigration policy and did not fear suspension by the BBC.
Friday’s BBC statement described Lineker as “second to none” in his sports presenting.
“We have never said that Gary should be an opinion-free zone, or that he can’t have a view on issues that matter to him, but we have said that he should keep well away from taking sides on party political issues or political controversies,” it added.
Shortly afterwards, former Arsenal and England forward Ian Wright said he would not be appearing on the programme on Saturday in a show of support for Lineker.
“Everybody knows what Match of the Day means to me, but I’ve told the BBC I won’t be doing it tomorrow,” he tweeted. “Solidarity.”
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.
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.