LONDON: Former England soccer captain Gary Lineker will “step back” from his role at the BBC following his criticism of Britain’s migration policy that has sparked a furious row between the government and the corporation’s highest paid presenter.
On Tuesday, Britain announced details of a new law which would see migrants arriving in small boats across the Channel prevented from claiming asylum and deported either back to their homeland or to so-called safe third countries.
It drew criticism from opposition parties, charities and the UN’s refugee agency for its impact on genuine refugees.
Lineker, who has previously hosted refugees in his home, retweeted a post featuring a video of interior minister Suella Braverman talking about the new law, with the comment “Good heavens, this is beyond awful.”
When challenged by a respondent, he 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, and I’m out of order?“
He faced a backlash to his comments, which were criticized by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s spokeswoman as “not acceptable” and “disappointing,” but said he would “continue to try and speak up for those poor souls that have no voice.”
The BBC said it had been in talks with Lineker and his team in recent days and decided that he would step back from presenting its flagship Match of the Day (MOTD) program “until we’ve got an agreed and clear position on his use of social media.”
Lineker has hosted MOTD for over 20 years and the charismatic 62-year-old has never been afraid to voice his opinions about political issues.
Ian Wright, a former Arsenal and England soccer player, said he would not appear on Saturday’s MOTD in “solidarity” with Lineker.
BREACH OF GUIDELINES
The BBC said it considered Lineker’s recent social media activity to be a breach of its guidelines.
“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.
The BBC, funded by what is in effect a 159 pounds ($192)annual “license fee” tax on all television-watching households, has a central presence in British cultural life. It says it is committed to being politically impartial.
Lineker, who during his career played for clubs including his home town Leicester City, Everton, Tottenham Hotspur and Spanish giants Barcelona, is the BBC’s highest paid personality, earning more than 1.3 million pounds in 2021/22.
He is no stranger to airing his views on politics and co-founded a podcast production company whose shows include ‘The Rest is Politics’.
Last year the BBC’s complaints unit ruled Lineker had failed to meet editorial standards on impartiality when he sent a tweet asking whether the governing Conservative Party would give back money from Russian donors after then foreign secretary Liz Truss had urged football teams to boycott the Champions League final in Russia.
BBC Chair Richard Sharp is under pressure for failing to declare his involvement in facilitating a loan for former Prime Minister Boris Johnson shortly before he was appointed to the role. His appointment, made on the recommendation of the government, is now being reviewed by Britain’s public appointments watchdog.