A defiant Gary Lineker has hit back at his critics and thanked his supporters after reports the BBC will have a “frank conversation” with the Match of the Day presenter following comments he made comparing Home Office immigration policy to Nazi Germany.
Lineker tweeted on Wednesday: “Great to see the freedom of speech champions out in force this morning demanding silence from those with whom they disagree.”
He said he had “never known such love and support in my life than I’m getting this morning (England World Cup goals aside, possibly)”, adding: “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.”
The row began when the former England footballer responded to a video message by the home secretary, Suella Braverman, about stopping people crossing the Channel in small boats. He wrote: “Good heavens, this is beyond awful.”
When challenged by someone on Twitter, he defended his comments, saying: “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, and I’m out of order?”
The prime minister’s press secretary told reporters the remark was “not acceptable”, echoing the views of a number of Conservative MPs.
She added: “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 that they have about small boats crossings and illegal migration.
“But beyond that, it’s up to the BBC, who I think have said today that they’ll be having a conversation with Gary Lineker, and it’s not for me to comment further.”
Meanwhile, Braverman told ITV’s Good Morning Britain she was “very disappointed” by his comments. She added: “Equating our measures – which are lawful, necessary and fundamentally compassionate – to 1930s Germany is irresponsible and I disagree with that characterisation.”
Asked if Lineker should resign or be sacked, she said: “That’s a matter for the BBC and they will resolve that.”
According to the PA news agency, a BBC source said the corporation was taking the matter “seriously” and expected to have a “frank conversation” with Lineker.
A corporation spokesperson told the Daily Telegraph: “The BBC has social media guidance, which is published. Individuals who work for us are aware of their responsibilities relating to social media. We have appropriate internal processes in place if required.”
Among Tory politicians condemning Lineker’s latest comments was the immigration minister Robert Jenrick, who told Times Radio: “My children are the grandchildren of Holocaust survivors and I think those sorts of words should not be thrown around lightly.
“Gary Lineker is paid for by the British taxpayer and it is disappointing that he is so far out of step with the British public.
“They see people dying, literally, in the English Channel at the behest of some of the most evil criminal gangs we see in the world today, and they want the government to take action. That’s exactly what we intend to do.”
The deputy chair of the Conservative party, 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.”
A spokesperson for the Labour leader, Sir Keir Starmer, said comparisons with 1930s Germany “aren’t always the best way to make” an argument.
Those supporting Lineker included Labour peer and former MP for Battersea, Lord Dubs, who tweeted: “I applaud @GaryLineker for his compassion and support for vulnerable people, particularly refugees. Thank you, Gary.”
Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair’s former press secretary, said Lineker was “pointing out the kind of facts the BBC should be pointing out relentlessly about the scale of a problem being exploited for populist polarising reasons”.
The former Newsnight presenter Emily Maitlis tweeted: “Curious that @GaryLineker was free to raise questions about Qatar’s human rights record – with the blessing of the BBC – over the World Cup, but cannot raise questions of human rights in this country if it involves criticism of government policy.”
Lineker’s claim that the UK takes “far fewer refugees” than other European countries is to some extent supported by parliamentary figures on asylum seekers.
Data from the House of Commons library shows that the UK ranks 16th when compared with the 27 EU countries for the number of asylum claims granted in 2021 after accounting for population sizes.
The figures were compiled by the House of Commons Library using data published by Eurostat and the Home Office.
The totals do not include all refugees welcomed to the UK, as some will have arrived under separate resettlement schemes, such as those for people fleeing Afghanistan.
Last year Tim Davie, the BBC director general, described cracking down on Lineker’s politicised tweeting as a “work in progress”.
He told MPs on the digital, culture, media and sport committee that a distinction needed to be drawn between those working in news and current affairs, and those such as Lineker who worked in other areas.
He said: “I’ve talked to Gary and he has sent thousands of tweets, and I think overall he is in a lot better state.”
Last October, the BBC’s complaints unit found Lineker had broken impartiality rules in a tweet that asked whether the Conservative party planned to “hand back their donations from Russian donors”.
His tweet came after the then foreign secretary, Liz Truss, called on Premier League teams to boycott the Champions League final in Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.