Gary Lineker could be facing his BBC career coming to an end after he refused to back down over comments drawing a parallel between the Government’s migration policy and Nazi Germany.
The corporation’s highest-paid star openly defied the broadcaster by renewing his attack on the Government with a string of comments on social media, and sharing a tweet which read: “Gary Lineker is entitled to say what he likes.”
His future with the corporation might now be in serious doubt. Insiders said that his follow-up tweets had “fanned the flames” of an already serious situation, with no sign that he intends to curtail his social media use.
BBC bosses had hoped that the Match of the Day presenter would apologise for his inflammatory language, but soon realised that Lineker was taking the opposite tack.
In his original tweet, Lineker responded to a Home Office video in which Suella Braverman, the Home Secretary, unveiled her plans to stop migrants crossing the Channel.
“Good heavens, this is beyond awful,” he said, then added: “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…”
There is no doubt that the tweet breached editorial guidelines, insiders said.
His remark was condemned by Downing Street. The Prime Minister’s press secretary said: “It’s obviously disappointing to see someone whose salary is funded by hard-working British licence fee payers using that kind of rhetoric and seemingly dismissing their legitimate concerns about small boats crossings and illegal migration.”
But Lineker continued to goad his critics, and his bosses, on social media. “Great to see the freedom of speech champions out in force this morning demanding silence from those with whom they disagree,” he tweeted.
After many of his followers told him he had been right to speak out, Lineker said: “I have never known such love and support in my life than I’m getting this morning (England World Cup goals aside, possibly). I want to thank each and every one of you. It means a lot.
“I’ll continue to try and speak up for those poor souls that have no voice. Cheers all.”
Lineker shared a tweet from Adam Boulton, the former Sky News anchor, which said: “Seems to me Gary Lineker is entitled to say what he likes [on] Twitter – he’s not a political reporter.”
He also shared the comments of Alastair Campbell, the former Labour spin doctor, who said Lineker had been “factually accurate” and that “language in the debate is redolent of the language used by politicians and media in 30s Germany… the Tory MPs calling for his head don’t want facts, they want anything that fuels their populist polarising politics.”
Lineker later shared a tweet from Alan Rusbridger, former editor of The Guardian, comparing him to food broadcaster Prue Leith, who supported Brexit.
In response to the BBC running his comments as the top story on the News at 10, Lineker wrote: “World’s gone mad.”
The star, who has hosted Match of the Day since 1999 and is the face of BBC Sport, indicated on social media that he did not feel bound by the corporation’s editorial guidelines because he is a freelancer rather than an employee. Lineker also works for BT Sport.
One social media user wrote of Lineker: “He’s a broadcaster who works for several organisations [and is not] ‘representing’ the Beeb when he tweets. Anyone who disagrees with his viewpoint has absolute freedom to answer him. That’s the country in which we live.” Lineker replied: “Absolutely.”
However, the guidelines apply to those who work on contract, and Lineker is covered by a clause referring to stars who have “an additional responsibility to the BBC because of their profile. We expect these individuals to avoid taking sides on party political issues or political controversies and to take care when addressing public policy matters.”
Lineker is the corporation’s best paid presenter on a salary of £1.35 million a year. His current contract runs until 2025 but the BBC’s guidelines state that “for contractors who are found to have breached the Guidance there may be consequences including non-renewal or termination of contract.”
Downing Street led criticism of Lineker and said his future was “a matter for the BBC”.
Robert Jenrick, the immigration minister, called for him to be “shown a red card”, telling LBC: “Gary Lineker is paid for by the British taxpayer and it’s disappointing that he is so far out of step with the British public.”
Mr Jenrick said: “My children are the grandchildren of Holocaust survivors and I think those sorts of words should not be thrown around lightly.”
Grant Shapps, the Energy Secretary, tweeted: “As a Jewish Cabinet minister, I need no lessons about 1930s Germany from Gary Lineker. Like Gary, I am hosting refugees in my own home, but unlike Gary, I do not believe it is either right or moral to tolerate criminal gangs trafficking vulnerable people across the Channel.”
Nine Tory MPs have now called for Lineker to be sacked. They include Chris Green, MP for Bolton West, who said: “If he stays, no one should pay the licence fee.”
David Jones, the former Cabinet minister, told the Telegraph: “In any other media organisation he’d be gone by now.”