‘Solidarity’ with Gary Lineker: Reaction as BBC removes presenter

Support pours in for former England captain Gary Lineker after the BBC removed him over tweets on the UK government’s refugee policy.

Britain Football Soccer - London Football Awards 2017 - Battersea Evolution - 2/3/17 Gary Lineker during the London Football Awards 2017 Action Images via Reuters / John Sibley Livepic EDITORIAL USE ONLY.
Former England captain Gary Lineker during the London Football Awards in 2017 [File: John Sibley, Livepic/Reuters]

The BBC has taken former England football captain Gary Lineker off the air, asking him to step back from presenting its flagship Match of the Day programme after government officials demanded the United Kingdom’s public broadcaster take action over Lineker’s criticism of their “stop the boats” asylum-seeker policy.

The UK this week announced details of a new law that would prevent asylum seekers, who arrive in small boats from across the Channel, from claiming asylum. Under the new policy, they would be deported either back to their homeland or to Rwanda.

Lineker, who has previously hosted refugees in his home, retweeted a post featuring a video of the UK’s Home Secretary Suella Braverman talking about the “stop the boats” policy, with the comment “Good heavens, this is beyond awful”.

Challenged by a respondent, Lineker tweeted: “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?”

A spokeswoman for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said Lineker’s comments were “not acceptable”. Lineker said he would “continue to try and speak up for those poor souls that have no voice”.

Lineker was told there must be an agreed position on his use of social media before he could return to work, the BBC said on Friday. Director-General Tim Davie said the BBC had taken “proportionate action”.

Support has poured in for Lineker following the BBC’s announcement of his suspension.

Here are some of those reactions:

First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon:

“As a strong supporter of public service broadcasting, I want to be able to defend the BBC. But the decision to take Gary Lineker off air is indefensible. It is undermining free speech in the face of political pressure – & it does always seem to be right-wing pressure it caves to.”

TV host Piers Morgan:

“It’s now a sackable offence in Britain to express an opinion. What a pathetic state of affairs.”

Ex-Arsenal player, Match of the Day pundit Ian Wright:

“Everybody knows what Match of the Day means to me, but I’ve told the BBC I won’t be doing it tomorrow. Solidarity.”

Ex-Newcastle United Player, Match of the Day pundit Alan Shearer:

“I have informed the BBC that I won’t be appearing on MOTD tomorrow night.”

Nobel Prize for Literature laureate Kazuo Ishiguro:

“I think he’s become one of the really important cultural figures for the country. I think he stands for really good things. I’m fully behind him on this. Just purely at the freedom of speech level, never mind whether you agree with him or not. I don’t think the government should be imposing restrictions like this on what broadcasters say.”

Labour Party’s Home Affairs Spokesperson Yvette Cooper:

“The focus on this is being used by the government, both to find someone to blame and also to distract from their own serious failures.”

Former Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn

“Well done Gary Lineker for standing up for refugees. Well done Ian Wright for showing the meaning of solidarity.”

Head of the Broadcasting, Entertainment, Communications and Theatre Union Philippa Childs:

“This is a deeply concerning decision from the BBC. It will give the appearance that they have bowed to political pressure from ministers to take someone off air for disagreeing with the policies of the current government.”

Ex-Manchester City Player, Match Of The Day Pundit Micah Richards:

“I was not due to be working on MOTD tomorrow, but if I was, I would find myself taking the same decision that Ian Wright and Alan Shearer have.”

Omar Waraich, human rights advocate:

“Gary Lineker doesn’t need the BBC. He’s a national treasure whose reputation has only been enhanced by standing up for the rights of refugees. It’s the BBC that needs Lineker to restore its credibility.”

Ex-Tottenham Hotspur Player, Match Of The Day Pundit Jermaine Jenas:

“I wasn’t down to be doing Match of the Day tomorrow, but if I was I would have said no and stood with my fellow pundits and Gary Lineker.”

Former Conservative Party culture secretary Nadine Dorries:

“News that Gary Lineker has been stood down for investigation is welcome and shows BBC are serious about impartiality.”

“Gary is entitled to his views – free speech is paramount. Lots of non Public Service Broadcasters can accommodate him and his views and he would be better paid.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies