Sunak says Lineker BBC Row is ‘a matter for them’ as he defends asylum policy

Rishi Sunak said the dispute over Gary Lineker and the BBC was “a matter for them, not the government” as he acknowledged “not everyone will always agree with his new asylum policy”.

The controversy, which saw the broadcaster take the sports pundit off the air, began when Lineker branded the government’s plans to crack down on small boat crossings in the Channel as “immeasurably cruel” and the language used to introduce the policy, with which Germany the 1930s compared.

Commenting for the first time since the BBC relieved Lineker of his duties as host of the match of the day, the Prime Minister said he hoped the dispute could be “resolved in time”.

The BBC has apologized after being forced to shut down several sports programs following a boycott of presenters in support of Gary Lineker (Mike Egerton/PA).

He continued to defend his proposals to permanently ban asylum seekers entering the UK on unauthorized small boats.

In a statement, Mr Sunak said: “As Prime Minister, I have to do what I think is right while respecting that not everyone will always agree. Because of this, I was 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 their business, not the government.

“As this process continues, it is important that we maintain perspective, especially given the seriousness of the issue at hand. 45,000 people crossed the Channel illegally last year, many of whom were exploited or trafficked by criminal gangs, putting their lives at risk.

“We need to break this cycle of misery once and for all and I believe the policy that we have set out this week is aimed at doing just that. It’s not only fair and moral, it’s also compassionate.”

Mr Sunak offered “weepy words” and ducked “any responsibility,” said Labour’s shadow culture secretary Lucy Powell in response.

“The Prime Minister’s claim that this disruption to the BBC’s football coverage had nothing to do with government might be credible if Tory MPs hadn’t spent more time talking about Gary Lineker than, say, the cost of living crisis and the rising mortgages , seven million awaiting NHS waiting lists, criminals going unpunished or one of their myriad mistakes. It’s the Tory way. To distract and incite rather than fix their own mess.”

Ms Powell also wrote to Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer to demand that BBC chairman Richard Sharp’s position be “clarified as a matter of urgency” and said he was “utterly unable” to deal with the dispute given his involvement in the Setting up an £800,000 loan facility for Boris Johnson “profoundly damaged the BBC’s perception of its impartiality and independence from government”.

Some of Mr Sunak’s Conservative Party colleagues have openly criticized Lineker, with Home Secretary Suella Braverman previously accusing him of belittling “the unspeakable tragedy” of the Holocaust.

Former Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries said the former England striker “has to make a choice… is he a footie presenter or a Labor Party candidate?”

But the BBC faced backlash from other politicians for telling Lineker to step down from hosting Saturday’s football highlights program in the impartiality series.

Sir Keir Starmer said the channel had “relented” to Tory MPs and was “the opposite of impartial”.

The Labor leader told broadcasters at the Welsh Labor conference on Saturday: “The BBC is not acting impartially in giving way to Tory MPs who complain about Gary Lineker.

“They got that wrong and now they are very, very exposed.

“Just like the government, because the focus is on the government’s failure in the asylum system. And instead of taking responsibility for the mess they’ve made, the government is blaming others – Gary Lineker, the BBC, officials, the ‘blob’.

“What they should do is stand up, accept that they broke the asylum system and tell us what they are going to do to actually fix it, and not bitch about Gary Lineker.”

Labor Deputy Leader Angela Rayner branded the BBC’s move as “an attack on freedom of expression”.

Labor MP Jess Phillips told Times Radio: “If Gary Lineker had tweeted ‘stop the boats’ he would still be on the air tonight.”

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