Sunak defiant in Lineker BBC row and insists migrant bill ‘moral’

Rishi Sunak has issued a defiant statement in response to Gary Lineker’s criticism of the language used to introduce the Government’s controversial migrant bill, saying the legislation is “moral and fair”. The Prime Minister’s remarks come after Lineker was told to step back from hosting the Saturday edition of Match of the Day in a row over impartiality at the BBC.

The BBC apologised after it was forced to pull a number of sports programmes after a boycott by presenters and pundits who came out in support of Lineker.

In a statement issued by Dowing Street this evening, Mr Sunak paid tribute to Lineker as “a great footballer”, but said the issue was a matter for the BBC and the Match of the Day presenter.

He said: “As Prime Minister, I have to do what I believe is right, respecting that not everyone will always agree. That is why I have been unequivocal in my approach to stopping the boats.

“Gary Lineker was a great footballer and is a talented presenter. I hope that the current situation between Gary Lineker and the BBC can be resolved in a timely manner, but it is rightly a matter for them, not the government.”

The PM added: “While that process is ongoing, it is important that we maintain perspective, particularly given the seriousness of the issue at hand. Forty-five thousand people crossed the channel illegally in the past two years, many of whom have been exploited or trafficked by criminal gangs, putting their lives in danger.

“We need to break this cycle of misery once and for all and the policy we set out this week I believe aims to do just that. It is not only the fair and moral thing to do, it is also the compassionate thing to do.

“There are no easy answers to solving this problem, but I believe leadership is about taking the tough decisions to fix problems. I know not everyone will always agree, but I do believe this is fair and right.”


Mr Sunak’s intervention comes after the Prime Minister insisted there was a “lot of strong support” for the Government’s plans to ban anyone entering the country illegally from applying for asylum.

Asked what he thought about the Match of the Day host’s slur by journalists ahead of a summit with Emmanuel Macron on Friday, Mr Sunak said: “I strongly believe that what we’re doing is the right thing to do. I think it’s the fair thing to do and I actually believe that it’s the moral and compassionate thing to do, and I’ve made that argument multiple times.

“I’ll continue to make it and I think actually the more people think about this challenge and how best to address it they will see that it is the right approach.

“And actually I was pleased that there was generally, actually quite a lot of strong support for the approach we’ve outlined now that we’ve outlined it, because this is about thinking what’s the best way to help the world’s most vulnerable people, which is something that the British public have demonstrated time and time again that they want to do, and no one can say that that’s not the case.”

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Saturday’s TV and radio sporting timetables were changed at the last minute and Sunday’s Match Of The Day has also been thrown into question amid the ongoing row.

Fellow sports presenters including Alex Scott, Kelly Somers and Jason Mohammad said they were pulling out of their shows, which resulted in Football Focus and Final Score being scrapped from the BBC One schedule, while 5 Live’s radio coverage was also altered.

In a statement, a BBC spokesperson said: “The BBC will only be able to bring limited sport programming this weekend and our schedules will be updated to reflect that.

“We are sorry for these changes which we recognise will be disappointing for BBC sport fans.

“We are working hard to resolve the situation and hope to do so soon.”

Bargain Hunt aired on Saturday in place of Football Focus on BBC One at noon, while The Repair Shop ran instead of Final Score.

Match Of The Day is due to go ahead on Saturday evening without a presenter, pundits and several regular commentators, but the Sunday edition may also face disruption after football pundit Jermain Defoe announced he would not appear.

Defoe tweeted: “It’s always such a privilege to work with BBC MOTD. But tomorrow I have taken the decision to stand down from my punditry duties. GaryLineker.”

BBC Radio 5 Live was also affected on Saturday with Mark Chapman not presenting for 5 Live Sport or Fighting Talk.

His stance throws further doubt into whether Match Of The Day 2 will air as normal on Sunday as he is due to host.

Greg Dyke, the former BBC director general and ex-FA chairman, has said the BBC was “mistaken” in standing Lineker down from hosting duties on Match Of The Day.

Asked whether Lineker’s tweet was acceptable, he told the BBC: “We live in a world of freedom of speech and therefore, yes. He didn’t broadcast it on the BBC, it was a tweet he did privately.”

The row was sparked by Lineker’s response on Twitter to a Home Office video in which Home Secretary Suella 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.”

MPs will debate the Illegal Migration Bill on Monday.

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