Britain’s top sports host can’t stop fighting with ministers and it’s all getting a bit weird
Gary Lineker continues feud with the British government.
LONDON — Gary Lineker, leader of the opposition?
The footballer-turned-TV-presenter — one of the U.K.’s most recognizable and highly paid media stars — has spent most of the week embroiled in a news bulletin-topping row about his views on Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s new immigration plan.
Some Tory MPs want his head, accusing him of making a crass comparison with Nazi Germany, while liberals on Twitter are swooning.
The former Leicester City and England star on Wednesday took a hefty swipe at Sunak’s Illegal Migration Bill, which is aimed at making it easier for British authorities to detain and deport those who enter the country by crossing the English Channel in small boats. Sunak’s vowed to make solving the problem a top priority for his Conservative government, and Tory voters want to see action.
Lineker — no stranger to airing his political views on social media — wasn’t impressed. He claimed the language used to announce the bill was “not dissimilar to that used by Germany in the ’30s.”
It’s that parallel in particular that prompted an angry backlash from Conservative MPs and some of the most senior members of the U.K. government.
As a freelance presenter of the BBC’s flagship Match of the Day program, critics argue Lineker’s comments risk undermining the public broadcaster’s strict rules on impartiality.
In the latest twist Thursday, Lineker hit back at a football-phobic analogy from Commons Leader Penny Mordaunt.
“They’ve borrowed from Lineker’s playbook,” Mordaunt said, attacking the opposition: “Labour are a party of goalhangers and left-wing strikers. That doesn’t work in politics.”
Lineker duly replied on (of course) Twitter: “Thank you for mentioning me in your clumsy analogy,” he added. “I’m just happy to have been better in the 6 yard box than you are at the dispatch box. Best wishes.”
The star — who has also been the face of top potato chips brand Walkers Crisps — earlier clashed with Energy Secretary Grant Shapps on Twitter. And Sunak’s spokesperson said his historical comparison with Germany was “disappointing.” Home Secretary Suella Braverman — whose husband is Jewish — said the comparison Lineker made “diminishes the unspeakable tragedy” of the Holocaust.
Lineker has made clear he’s not backing down, however, telling a slightly surreal press gaggle outside his home Thursday that he “of course” stood by his position. Beyond a talking-to by BBC bosses, it appears the broadcaster has no plans to discipline the star, according to the Sun newspaper.
The latest row represents only the latest occasion where the one-time World Cup semifinalist has waded into politics.
The BBC’s complaints unit ruled late last year that a tweet urging the Conservatives to “hand back their donations from Russian donors” did not meet the broadcaster’s impartiality rules.
Lineker, a devout Remainer, has also been a relentless mocker of Britain’s EU exit.
“See we’re getting Brexit done … again,” he tweeted as Sunak agreed his new deal with the EU.
POLITICO will see you back here tomorrow as the row enters its 547th day.