Downing Street has described Gary Lineker’s criticism of new asylum policy as “not acceptable” and “disappointing”.
The Match Of The Day host, 62, has faced criticism from Home Secretary Suella Braverman and immigration minister Robert Jenrick after comparing the language used to launch the policy with 1930s Germany.
On Wednesday, the Prime Minister’s press secretary told reporters: “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.”
She was not aware of plans to make a formal complaint to the BBC, saying it was a matter for the broadcaster.
Rishi Sunak defended the Government’s small boats policy when questioned about Lineker’s comments, saying: “I’m completely confident that what we’re doing is not only right, that it’s fair, but it’s also the compassionate and moral way to address the challenges that we face with illegal migration.”
Energy Secretary Grant Shapps tweeted: “As a Jewish Cabinet minister I need no lessons about 1930s Germany from @GaryLineker.
“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.”
The spokesman told reporters in Westminster: “I think there is a general observation that I’d make, which is I think comparisons with Germany in the 1930s aren’t always the best way to make one’s argument.
“On the specifics of Gary Lineker speaking out, everybody will know that he has been a passionate advocate on behalf of refugees and refugee rights, including taking refugees into his own home.
“So, I don’t think it will come as a surprise that he has strong views on this subject.”
BBC director-general Tim Davie previously warned staff over 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.
On Wednesday, Mr Davie told the BBC he had not spoken to Lineker, before being asked about how many “strikes” he has had on impartiality and social media.
Mr Davie said: “I wouldn’t talk specifically about individuals; I don’t think it’s right. I think the BBC absolutely puts the highest value on impartiality and that’s clearly important to us.”
On Tuesday, Lineker wrote on Twitter about a Home Office video in which Ms Braverman unveiled the Government’s plans to stop migrants crossing the Channel on small boats and said the UK is being “overwhelmed”.
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.”
Following the criticism on Wednesday, he wrote on Twitter “anything going on?” and then followed this up with another post saying the “freedom of speech champions” were “demanding silence from those with whom they disagree”.
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.
Former Newsnight presenter Emily Maitlis – who was reprimanded by the BBC for sharing a tweet the corporation viewed as “controversial” – said she thought it was “curious” the presenter was “free” to ask about Qatar’s human rights record during his World Cup coverage but not about the same issue in the UK.
While Newsnight’s former policy editor, Lewis Goodall, said he had also faced difficulties surrounding impartiality during his time at the BBC.
Referring to member of the BBC board and former director of communications for Theresa May, Robbie Gibb, Goodall said: “He made my life really, really hard.”
Speaking alongside Maitlis and former BBC News foreign correspondent Jon Sopel on The News Agents podcast, Goodall said: “I’m sitting there going, hang on a minute, I’m being lectured on impartiality for a man who, checks notes, like 12 months ago was literally head of comms in Downing Street.”
Lineker, who last year was named as the BBC’s top earning on-air talent for the fifth consecutive year, was paid between £1,350,000 and £1,354,999 in 2021/2022 for Match Of The Day and Sports Personality Of The Year.
A BBC spokesman said: “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.”
Representatives for Lineker have been contacted for comment.