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'Thank you Gary': Lineker praised for opposing 'immeasurably cruel' Illegal Immigration Bill

BBC presenter Gary Lineker has been inundated with support for his comments about the government’s Illegal Immigration Bill

Gary Lineker attends the Sun's Who Cares Wins Awards 2021 at The Roundhouse on September 14, 2021 in London, England. (Photo by Samir Hussein/WireImage)

BBC presenter Gary Lineker has been inundated with support for his comments about the government’s Illegal Immigration Bill after the broadcaster said it would be having a “frank conversation” with the presenter about its impartiality guidelines.

Lineker said he has “never known such love and support” in his life and that he would “continue to try and speak up for those poor souls that have no voice”.

The former England striker, who presents Match of the Day on the BBC, responded to the Home Office’s tweet about the policy to say that it is “beyond awful”.

He tweeted on Wednesday: “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 German in the 30s.”

Lineker was heavily criticised by Conservative MPs and ministers, including home secretary Suella Braverman and culture secretary Lucy Frazer, as well as journalists in national press and pundits like Julia Hartley-Brewer

But, he has also received extensive support from journalists, politicians, and the public, who say that his comments were justified in the face of the policy and that he did not break impartiality guidelines as he is “employed for his knowledge of football” rather than as a news presenter.

Alastair Campbell, former advisor to Tony Blair, spoke about the incident on Newsnight, saying: “Are we seriously having the discussion that a tweet from Gary Lineker has done more damage to the BBC’s impartiality, than your chairman who sorted an £800,000 loan for Boris Johnson?”

Former Newsnight presenter Emily Maitlis questioned why Lineker was “free to raise questions about Qatar’s human rights record” during the 2022 FIFA World Cup but now “cannot raise questions of human rights in this country”.

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TalkTV host Piers Morgan has also defended Lineker’s comments, acknowledging that they were “clearly incendiary” but that they “should not matter to the BBC’s news output”.

Labour Peer and former MP for Battersea, Baron Alf Dubs, applauded Lineker for his “compassion and support for vulnerable people”. He wrote, “Thank you, Gary,” accompanied by a photo of Dubs and Lineker together.

But, many did not agree. Immigration minister Robert Jenrick said that Lineker was “far out of step with the British public” while deputy chair of the Conservative Party and MP for Ashfield Lee Anderson wrote on Facebook: “This is just another example of how out of touch these overpaid stars are with the voting public. Instead of lecturing, Mr Lineker should stick to reading out the football scores and flogging crisps.”

According to PA, the BBC is taking the matter “seriously” and will be having a conversation with Lineker about the tweets. A BBC spokesperson added: “We would expect Gary to be spoken to and reminded of his responsibilities.”

Richard Ayre, the BBC’s former controller of editorial policy, said that Lineker could be fired over the tweets.

Impartiality is at the core of the BBC’s editorial guidelines, which states that public comments, for example on social media, of staff [or] presenters” could “affect perceptions of the BBC’s impartiality”.

The Illegal Immigration Bill was introduced to parliament on Tuesday by prime minister Rishi Sunak and home secretary Suella Braverman in a bid to curb people travelling across the Channel in small boats and seeking asylum here in the UK.

The new bill would deny asylum to anyone arriving in the UK through illegal routes, such as the Channel, and they would be eligible for deportation to their home country or to a “safe third country” as well as banning them from returning to the UK.

Braverman told Good Morning Britain that she was “disappointed” in Lineker’s comments. She said: “Equating our measures – which are lawful, necessary and fundamentally compassionate – to 1930s Germany is irresponsible and I disagree with that characterisation.”

1930s Germany crucially saw the rise of the Nazi party and the increasing persecution of Jewish people, ultimately leading to the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939.

This is not the first time Lineker has found himself in hot water over his opinions. In October, Lineker was found to have broken impartiality rules after asking whether the Conservative Party planned to “hand back their donations from Russian donors” on Twitter. 

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The comment was linked to then-foreign secretary Liz Truss asking Premier League teams to boycott the Champions League final in Russia due to the invasion of Ukraine.

Lineker is known to be vocal about migrants rights and has been critical of the Conservative government in the past. 

In 2021, he told Radio 4’s Media show that he tries to “be sensible” and “considerate” to the BBC about what he tweets but argues that as a freelancer employed to talk about sport, he is not subject to the same rules as “people in news and current affairs”. 

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