Media caption, Watch: Gary Lineker says he stands by tweets criticising government’s asylum policy
Gary Lineker has said he does not fear BBC suspension in an impartiality row over a tweet criticising the government’s asylum policy.
The Match of the Day host has tweeted that he is “looking forward to presenting” the show on Saturday.
Lineker had compared the language the government used to set out asylum plans to “that used by Germany in the 30s”.
Speaking to the BBC, the home secretary said the comment “diminishes the unspeakable tragedy” of the Holocaust.
Despite intense criticism from some in government, Lineker expects to be retained as a presenter. The BBC has not commented.
He wrote on social media: “Happy that this ridiculously out of proportion story seems to be abating and very much looking forward to presenting [Match of the Day] on Saturday. Thanks again for all your incredible support. It’s been overwhelming.”
Suella Braverman told the BBC’s Political Thinking podcast the Nazi comparison used by Lineker was “lazy and unhelpful”.
The home secretary said her family “feel very keenly the impact of the Holocaust” as her husband is Jewish and said it was “offensive” to draw the comparison.
When it was put to her by host Nick Robinson that Lineker was passionate about the rights of asylum seekers, she said the Germany comment was an “unhelpful way to frame the debate”.
The BBC said on Wednesday it was having a “frank conversation” with Lineker about the BBC’s guidelines on remaining impartial following his Twitter remark.
Asked by a reporter if he regretted the post, the host answered: “No”.
Pressed on whether he had spoken to the BBC director general, he said he had and that they “chat often”. Asked if he stood by the tweet, he said: “Course”.
Speaking in the Commons earlier on Thursday, Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer said Lineker’s remark was “disappointing and inappropriate” and referenced her grandmother who escaped Nazi Germany.
Ms Frazer said it was “important for the BBC to retain impartiality if it is to retain the trust of the public who pay the licence fee” but that the broadcaster is “operationally independent” of the government.
Former culture secretary Sir John Whittingdale urged the government to ensure “all those who are presenters on the BBC” – including freelancers like Lineker – were covered by impartiality rules when the charter was reviewed.
Media caption, Suella Braverman says Gary Lineker’s tweet about immigration policy is “a lazy and unhelpful comparison to make”.
But Richard Sambrook, the BBC’s former director of global news, said on Twitter it had “become unsustainable for the BBC to force freelance presenters to fall in line with BBC policies in their non-BBC activities”.
He added that the policy was “full of fudge” and the BBC needed to clarify “to what extent impartiality rules extend beyond news”.
On Tuesday, the government outlined its plans to ban people arriving in the UK illegally from ever claiming asylum, in a bid to address a rise in the number of people crossing the Channel in small boats.
Opposition MPs and charities have strongly objected to the proposals, but the PM and home secretary have defended the plan, saying stopping the crossings is a priority for the British people.
Lineker’s remarks have been widely criticised by Conservative MPs and ministers, including Downing Street,but he has received support by many on social media who oppose the government’s proposals.
In response to some of the criticism, Lineker tweeted on Wednesday: “I’ll continue to try and speak up for those poor souls that have no choice.”
Lineker, 62, who has presented Match of the Day since 1999 also works for LaLiga TV.
Media caption, Sir John Whittingdale and Gregory Campbell quiz Lucy Frazer about Gary Lineker’s impartiality
The corporation’s former editorial policy controller Richard Ayre said the presenter had a choice to make over his role at the BBC.
He said Lineker must consider whether to stay or to leave and “become a social media influencer”.
Mr Ayre, a former member of the broadcasting regulator Ofcom’s content board, said it was “unacceptable” to have someone who works for the BBC “comparing Suella Braverman to the third Reich”.
Asked whether BBC director general Tim Davie may have to let the sports presenter go, Mr Ayre told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I don’t think he is going to have any choice but to let him go unless he can be certain that this is the end of it.”
The former BBC trustee was also asked about BBC chairman Richard Sharp, who is facing criticism over his role in facilitating a £800,000 loan for then-prime minister Boris Johnson.
Mr Ayre said the BBC’s chairman was “hanging by an absolute thread”, adding: “It is quite likely that, within the next few days or weeks, we’ll perhaps see two heads roll – one from the left and one from the right, the chairman and Gary Lineker.
“And then, maybe, once each side has scored a goal, we can get back to normal business.”