Labour is under fire after one of its front benchers likened the Government to Vladimir Putin’s Russia over the Gary Lineker row.
Lucy Powell, the Shadow Culture Secretary, made the remarks as she forced a debate over the controversy, which saw the presenter briefly “step back” from presenting Match of the Day.
Lineker last week drew parallels between the language used by Suella Braverman, the Home Secretary, around the new Illegal Migration Bill and Nazi Germany.
Downing Street had said his tweet was “not acceptable” but that any disciplinary action was a matter for the BBC, Mrs Braverman deemed the comments “personally offensive” as her husband is Jewish.
Asking an urgent question in the Commons about the matter on Tuesday to Julia Lopez, a culture minister, Ms Powell said: “What does she think it looks like to the outside world that a much-loved sports presenter is taken off air for tweeting something the Government doesn’t like?
“It sounds more like Putin’s Russia to me. Her Government has pursued a deliberate strategy of undermining the BBC to keep it over a barrel to get themselves more coverage.
“It was on full display overnight and I’m sure it will be on full display here today – threaten the licence fee, cut its funding, undermine its credibility. All in pursuit in (sic) keeping their foot on the BBC’s throat.”
‘A disgraceful comparison to make’
In her reply, Ms Lopez said it was “distasteful” of Ms Powell “to compare the Government’s actions, or otherwise, to the Putin regime.
“I think it is a disgraceful comparison to make and I think it is way off the mark.”
Ms Lopez accused Labour of applying its own political pressure on the broadcaster after Sir Keir Starmer, the party’s leader, said it was “badly wrong” to have taken Lineker off Match of the Day last weekend.
She added it was “incredibly important” to allow the BBC to conduct a review of its social media guidelines, which has been prompted by the furore.
Ms Lopez said it was “difficult not to ignore” that Lineker “will be understandably held to account for his views by the licence-fee payer” as he receives £1.3 million from the BBC every year.
Responding to Ms Powell’s analogy, Lee Anderson, the deputy Conservative chairman, told The Telegraph: “Anyone can see these comments are overblown and just plain ridiculous. Ms Powell should apologise.”
Marco Longhi, the Tory MP for Dudley North, accused Ms Powell of “ignorance and pound-shop politics” in the wake of her tirade.
“Putin is killing people – Putin’s Russia is suffering at the hands of this dictator,” he said. “This comparison exemplifies the stark ignorance of opposition MPs.”
Andrew Percy, the Conservative vice-chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on anti-Semitism, told MPs it was “disgusting” for Lineker to have compared Ms Braverman’s announcement of a crackdown on illegal migrant crossings to the language used in 1930s Germany.
Sir John Hayes, a former Conservative minister, branded Lineker “insensitive, avaricious, smug and arrogant”.