Why did Gary Lineker’s comments ruffle more feathers than the actual small boats policy?

Lineker came under fire for allegedly not maintaining a stance of political impartiality (Picture: Marc Atkins/Getty Images)

I’m not sure who has had the more surreal week; Gary Lineker, or the rest of us watching the response to Gary Lineker. 

All he did was describe the government’s new ‘Illegal Migration Bill’ as cruel and say that it was directed at the most vulnerable in society in language not dissimilar to that of 1930s Germany.

That’s all it took to dominate the political agenda for three days, and even take the top-spot on BBC News for two nights in a row.

Now, the Match of the Day presenter is stepping back from this role on the back of his social media usage and until an agreement has been reached.

Earlier this week, Lineker’s tweets even became a topic of discussion in the House of Commons, as Penny Mourdant spoke almost entirely in football-related metaphors for what felt like a full 90 minutes. 

Braverman called Lineker’s comparison ‘lazy and unhelpful’ while speaking on a BBC podcast, but has failed to correct her own lazy and unhelpful claim that 100million people could theoretically be trying to make their way to the UK to seek asylum.

Did Lineker call Suella Braverman a Nazi? No.

Did he call the Government Nazis? No.

Did he make a sober comparison between the language used by the Home Secretary and the language used in 1930s Germany to instil propagandist fear into a population to make them believe that their way of life was under threat by an ‘enemy’ group of people. Yes.

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The language being used by Braverman for some time now, both specifically – like the time she called the small boats crisis an ‘invasion’ – and in general terms – such as her consistent demonization of refugees – IS reminiscent of 1930s Germany, something she has been challenged on publicly by a Holocaust survivor

And so many others agree with the presenter. In fact, Lineker says he has had more messages of support over the past couple of days than at any moment since his heroics for England in the 1990 World Cup. 

It seems to me there’s been more headlines, more discourse around Gary Lineker’s tweet than there was about Suella Braverman’s more-likely-than-not-illegal plans to detain those arriving in the UK via small boat crossing. 

Asylum seekers will be arrested and detained in make-shift detention camps, without access to bail judicial review, and kept there until they can be deported to either a third country like Rwanda or their own country. 

If they are fleeing persecution, if they are victims of human trafficking – it won’t matter to the Home Office because they will be banned from ever entering the UK ever again.

No new safe routes were announced. 

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This cruel policy was announced on Tuesday, but by the next evening what was being discussed as a top news item on the BBC was not the Illegal Migration Bill, but the corporation’s social media policy.

Are we really such an unserious country that we should prioritise a football presenter’s tweets over the cost-of-living crisis, the war in Ukraine, or the migration policy itself? It’s laughable.

As a presenter for the BBC, Lineker came under fire for allegedly not maintaining a stance of political impartiality. 

Some, including MPs, called for the former England star to be sacked over the comments, while others feared that firing him would make him a martyr. 

Now that he’s taking a step back until a solution is found, it seems like many got their wish.

From suggesting he should stick to football to claiming his comments were offensive, they used every trick in the public humiliation handbook to try and shame him into backing down from his stance.

But how can you possibly try to publicly humiliate a man who once soiled himself live on international television during a football match, got up and carried on. He’s immune.

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Gary Lineker takes no s**t.

I don’t think he needs to be disciplined, fired, or even ‘frankly spoken to’ about his tweets. 

Rather, he should be praised for taking a stand against the obvious cruelty of this plan and using his platform to give a voice to the voiceless.

It’s no wonder Tory MPs and right-wing commentators fear him. With a following of 8.7million people on Twitter, he has an audience reach that most politicians or media organisations could only dream of.

As a football pundit, he is well known to people who might not typically engage with political discourse.

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As a trusted household name, he has that cut-through ability to potentially change the opinions of people who may only vote a certain way because that’s how their dad voted and they’ve never known anything different – just like they support the same football team as their dad.

Gary has the power to get people questioning the status quo – and that’s terrifying for a political party who have been in power for 13 years and rely heavily on public apathy to maintain a majority. 

If more people are mobilised into voting – they could vote for change with Labour and the Tories could lose power. As would everyone else who has profited from their cronyism or tax breaks for the rich.

Speaking of wealth, Lineker isn’t doing too bad for himself, yet he still uses his platform for good, has taken in refugees and continues to fight the good fight both on and off Twitter. Yet his wealth was used against him by some commentators calling him a hypocrite.

Would the same right-wing voices – often the self-appointed champions of free speech – be calling for ‘impartiality’ if Lineker had sided with them on the plan?

If government dissidence over a cruel and unworkable policy is considered controversial, then I worry about the direction this country is heading in.

Lineker’s opinion was an educated one and came from a place of concern for the most vulnerable, yet he was called upon to remain ‘impartial’. No one should be expected to remain impartial to a plan so cruel it’s likely to breach international law. 

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To remain impartial to a Home Secretary whose sentiments I do believe echo those of 1930s German rhetoric is to ignore history and does a disservice to all those who warned us against the demonisation and dehumanisation of others.

Lineker is one of the nation’s best loved presenters, and if he loses his job he will have no problem in finding another. Others aren’t in such a fortunate position to speak out against those in power.

But he has set a precedent. He held his head high, stuck by his principles and prioritised compassion over cruelty.

If only the government would do the same.

Do you have a story you’d like to share? Get in touch by emailing jess.austin@metro.co.uk

Share your views in the comments below.

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