Gary Lineker rowing with Grant Shapps over Rwanda scheme 'seems to breach impartiality rules', says new BBC chief

13 December 2023, 12:09

Gary Lineker 'seems to have breached BBC impartiality guidelines', Samir Shah has said
Gary Lineker 'seems to have breached BBC impartiality guidelines', Samir Shah has said. Picture: Alamy/Getty/Parliament TV

By Kit Heren

Gary Lineker "seems to have breached" BBC impartiality guidelines in a recent post about Grant Shapps in a row over the Rwanda plan, the government candidate to be the corporation's next chairman has said.

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Samir Shah said the ongoing debate over Match of the Day presenter Lineker airing his political views in public was a "psychodrama", during an appearance at a pre-appointment hearing with MPs.

Lineker sparked the latest impartiality row when he signed a letter that called on the government to create a "fair new plan for refugees" and scrap the Rwanda scheme.

Several Conservative MPs criticised him, claiming that he was in breach of the BBC's rules on political impartiality. Grant Shapps said that Lineker should stick to talking about football.

Lineker hit back with jabs at Shapps and other MPs on social media.

Read more: Gary Lineker sparks fresh impartiality row by signing letter calling on Rishi Sunak to scrap Rwanda scheme

Read more: Gary Lineker sparks fresh impartiality row after sharing video of professor who accuses Israel of 'genocide'

Gary Lineker
Gary Lineker. Picture: Alamy

Mr Shah told MPs that he thought the episode was not "very helpful either for Gary Lineker or the BBC or the cause he supports because it becomes a story about Gary Lineker and the BBC.

He added that the letter he signed itself did not breach BBC guidelines, as far he was aware.

"But the more recent tweet in which he identifies a politician does, on the face of it, seem to breach those guidelines," Mr Shah said.

"I'm not sure how egregious it is but I imagine the BBC is looking into it and considering its response."

Samir Shah
Samir Shah. Picture: Parliament TV

Mr Shah said he would ask director-general Tim Davie to "interrogate quite forcibly" whether the impartiality guidelines are effective.

He told MPs: "I do think we need to find a solution to this becaise it doesn't help anyone and it does damage the reputation of the BBC if we are constantly in this round, not just with this particular presenter or not," he added.

"The BBC's reputation matters and this isn't helpful and we do need to find a solution to it and if I were to be chair I would be keen to bring about a solution."

Mr Shah needs to be approved as the BBC's chairman by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport's select committee. It will then be passed onto the privy council and King Charles for final approval.

It comes after the government passed emergency legislation declaring Rwanda a safe destination for asylum seekers on Tuesday night. Mr Lineker has been a critic of the Rwanda plan, and spoken out in favour of the UK taking more refugees.

Grant Shapps
Grant Shapps. Picture: Alamy

Lineker previously sparked an impartiality row after saying government rhetoric was not dissimilar from 1930s Germany.

Following a review, the corporation decided to allow its top stars to share their own views on social media, but must stop short of political campaigning.

The Rwanda letter, published by Together With Refugees, called Britain’s refugee system "ever-more uncaring, chaotic and costly".

Other stars who signed the letter, include Succession star Brian Cox, women's rights campaigner Helen Pankhurst, Hotel Rwanda actor Sophie Okonedo and television chef Big Zuu.

Lineker said: "We need a new system that reflects the will of the British people who have opened their homes, donated and volunteered in their local communities.

James O'Brien asks what frustrates a lot of politicians about Gary Lineker

"That's why I'm backing this new campaign - because fair really can begin here."

But furious Tory MPs slammed Lineker's intervention.

Defence Secretary Grant Shapps told LBC and other outlets that the former England striker should keep to commenting on football, rather than getting involved in politics. Lineker hit back by repeating a claim that Shapps had used pseudonyms.

Caller praises Gary Lineker's stance on the Rwanda policy

Conservative MP Jonathan Gullis also said: 'This is yet again another breach by Gary Lineker that goes against the BBC's impartiality rules. But, sadly, spineless [director-general] Tim Davie will do nothing about it, having surrendered to him previously.

Mr Gullis told the MailOnline: "Either the BBC enforces the rules its presenters are bound by, or they no longer receive funding from the British taxpayer."

A group of migrants being brought in to Dungeness, Kent, by the RNLI
A group of migrants being brought in to Dungeness, Kent, by the RNLI. Picture: Alamy

The party's deputy chairman Lee Anderson said: "For once in his life, Gary's absolutely right – we do need a system that reflects the will of the British people. What the people want is to stop the boats and to tell overpaid crisp salesmen to put a sock in it.

"Alongside cracking down on illegal migration, we need another robust system which keeps Lineker as far away from the public as possible, to give us all a rest from his Left-wing, out-of-touch nonsense."

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