Gary Lineker has said he will stand his ground after a day of attacks from ministers over tweets he posted earlier this week criticising the government’s asylum policy, and dismissed suggestions he could face suspension from his £1.35m-a-year job at the BBC.
Pressure continues to mount on Lineker, with the culture secretary, the home secretary and two former BBC directors adding to the criticism of the Match of the Day presenter’s comments on social media, in which he likened the language used to set out the government’s immigration plans to “that used by Germany in the 30s”.
However, support for Lineker has come from media figures including Piers Morgan and the former Sky News presenter Adam Boulton.
On Thursday, Lineker suggested he was not facing any sanction or suspension. “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,” he tweeted.
Lineker also responded to questions from journalists outside his home on Thursday morning.
Asked whether he stood by what he said in his tweets, the football pundit replied: “Of course.” He was then asked if he feared being suspended. Lineker told reporters: “No.”
A BBC insider said that while senior managers had had conversations with Lineker the matter was yet to be resolved and no course of action had yet been determined.
The home secretary, Suella Braverman, who has previously been criticised by a Holocaust survivor for the language used about refugees, claimed Lineker’s tweets “diminishes the unspeakable tragedy” of the Holocaust, calling the comparison he made to 30s Germany “lazy and unhelpful”.
“I think it is, from a personal point of view, to hear that characterisation is offensive because – as you said – my husband is Jewish, my children are therefore directly descendant from people who were murdered in gas chambers during the Holocaust,” she told the BBC’s Political Thinking podcast.
“To kind of throw out those kind of flippant analogies diminishes the unspeakable tragedy that millions of people went through and I don’t think anything that is happening in the UK today can come close to what happened in the Holocaust.”
Speaking in the Commons earlier on Thursday, the culture secretary, Lucy Frazer, said it was important for the BBC to maintain impartiality if it was to retain the trust of the public who paid the licence fee.
She added: “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.
“The BBC is operationally independent and I’m pleased the BBC will be speaking to Gary Lineker to remind him of his responsibilities in relation to social media.”
Former BBC bosses also voiced their concerns over the blurring of Lineker’s personal views and impartiality issues in his role as one of the corporation’s most well-known stars.
Last year he 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 2021-22 for Match of the Day and Sports Personality of the Year.
Richard Ayre, the former BBC controller of editorial policy, said it was unacceptable for a BBC employee to “compare Suella Braverman to the Third Reich” and that Lineker had to decide if he wants to remain employed at the corporation or “become a social media influencer”.
Roger Mosey, the former head of BBC television news and director of sport, said while he sympathised with Lineker’s views and did not support calls for him to be sacked, his lack of impartiality was a legitimate concern for the corporation.
“What if he was tweeting ‘Brexit is working, Suella Braverman is right, refugees should go back to Calais’?,” said Mosey, speaking to Times Radio. “[Impartiality] can be tough sometimes but it’s the best policy in difficult circumstances for the BBC … If you receive £1.4m from the BBC, you need to abide by the BBC’s rules.”
Despite the criticism Lineker has remained steadfastly unbowed over his social media salvo, backing up his original tweet with a subsequent post thanking those supporting him and vowing not to be silenced.
“I’ll continue to try and speak up for those poor souls that have no choice,” he tweeted.
Lineker has also received wide-ranging support for voicing his views. Morgan said despite the pundit’s comments being “clearly incendiary” they should not bother the corporation as he was not a news reporter.
While Boulton pointed out that the corporation did not attempt to gag or censure the “frequently voiced views of BBC actors”.
Meanwhile, Emily Maitlis, the former Newsnight presenter, pointed out that the corporation was fine with Lineker raising questions about Qatar’s human rights record during the World Cup.
Ayre, a former member of broadcasting regulator Ofcom’s content board and BBC trustee, said the corporation’s director general, Tim Davie, may be forced to fire Lineker.
Last year, Davie told a committee of MPs that he had talked to Lineker about the BBC’s editorial social media guidelines but admitted cracking down on his politicised tweeting was a “work in progress”.