Gary Lineker has suggested he will avoid suspension by the BBC for his comments about the UK government’s asylum policy, as the British home secretary accused him of “diminishing the unspeakable tragedy” of the Holocaust.
The Match Of The Day presenter’s row with the UK government deepened on Thursday as he hit back at Commons Leader Penny Mordaunt on Twitter and accused her of using a “clumsy analogy”.
Lineker is facing criticism from members of the Conservative Party after comparing the language used to launch the new policy with 1930s Germany.
The BBC has said it is taking the matter “seriously” and expects to have a “frank conversation” with Lineker, and on Thursday the BBC pundit confirmed he had spoken to director-general Tim Davie.
He tweeted: “Well, it’s been an interesting couple of days. Happy that this ridiculously out of proportion story seems to be abating and very much looking forward to presenting @BBCMOTD on Saturday.
“Thanks again for all your incredible support. It’s been overwhelming.”
Lineker later responded to Ms Mordaunt on Twitter after she accused Labour of borrowing from his “playbook” by being the “party of goal hangers”.
He tweeted: “Thank you for mentioning me in your clumsy analogy. I’m just happy to have been better in the 6 yard box than you are at the dispatch box. Best wishes.”
His tweets came after he told reporters outside his London home that he stands by his criticism of the immigration policy and does not fear suspension by the BBC.
Speaking on the BBC’s Political Thinking podcast, UK home secretary Suella Braverman said “flippant analogies” linked to her asylum policy like the one used by Lineker “diminishes the unspeakable tragedy” of the Holocaust.
She added: “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.
“And my husband’s family is very… feels very keenly the impact of the Holocaust actually.”
Criticism also came from UK culture secretary Lucy Frazer, who told the Commons it is important for the BBC to maintain impartiality if it is to “retain the trust of the public who pay the licence fee”.
Gregory Campbell, DUP MP for Derry, called for “lefty Lineker” to face a salary reduction.
Last year the former England footballer 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 2021/2022 for Match Of The Day and Sports Personality Of The Year.
However, support has come from media figures including Piers Morgan and Sky News commentator Adam Boulton, who said he thought Lineker was “entitled to say what he likes” on Twitter because he is not a political reporter.
Mr Davie previously warned staff about their use of social media when he took on the role at the end of 2020, and guidelines around social media use have since been updated.
Staff were told they need to follow editorial guidelines and editorial oversight in the same way as when doing BBC content.
Lineker is a freelance broadcaster for the BBC, not a permanent member of staff, and is not responsible for news or political content so does not need to adhere to the same rules on impartiality.
The row was sparked by Lineker’s response on Twitter to a UK Home Office video in which Ms Braverman unveiled the government’s plans to stop migrants crossing the Channel on small boats.
The ex-England striker wrote: “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 Germany in the ’30s.”
The BBC did not have an immediate comment. A representative for Lineker declined to comment further.