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

11 December 2023, 07:40

Gary Lineker has sparked a fresh impartiality row
Gary Lineker has sparked a fresh impartiality row. Picture: Alamy

By Kit Heren

Gary Lineker has ignited another impartiality row after signing an open letter calling on the government to end the Rwanda plan.

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Match of the Day presenter Lineker was among several celebrities who signed the letter that called on the government to create a "fair new plan for refugees".

But several Conservative MPs criticised him, claiming that he was in breach of the BBC's rules on political impartiality.

It comes as the government hopes to pass emergency legislation declaring Rwanda a safe destination for asylum seekers, after the Supreme Court ruled against the plan last month.

Read more: Rwanda ‘laughing all the way to the bank’ as £290m cost of scheme could have paid for 400,000 asylum claims

Read more: Home Office 'bullish' about Rwanda laws but Tory fringe groups sour on Sunak's migration plan

Gary Lineker
Gary Lineker. 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.

The letter, addressed to "political leaders", says: "Our Government is still trying to banish people fleeing persecution to Rwanda despite the highest court in the land ruling the scheme unlawful.

Brian Cox is among the other signatories
Brian Cox is among the other signatories. Picture: Alamy

"Tens of thousands of people are stuck in limbo waiting for their refugee protection to be processed, separated from their families and barred from working.

"These policies aren't working for refugees and they aren't working for local communities.

"That's why we have come together to say we've had enough. Enough of the division. Enough of the short-term thinking. Enough of the wasted human potential. And it's why we now call for something better."

Lineker and his fellow signatories said they were "calling on you, our political leaders of all parties, to commit to a fair new plan for refugees".

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

That includes upholding the UK's commitment under international law to the right to claim asylum and scrapping the Rwanda scheme.

The letter also urged a "proper strategy for welcoming and integrating refugees" through "fair, rapid decisions on their application for asylum" and stronger global co-operation "to tackle the root causes that force people to flee their homes and provides positive solutions when they do, including through safe routes to refugee protection".

Together With Refugees said polling has shown less than a fifth (18%) of people think the Government's approach to the asylum system is working well, rising to just over a quarter (28%) of respondents who intend to vote Conservative at the next election.

Former England footballer 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.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. Picture: Alamy

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

But furious Tory MPs slammed Lineker's intervention.

Conservative MP Jonathan Gullis 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."

David Lammy struggles to understand why Rishi Sunak is 'so attached' to his Rwanda Scheme

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."

Mr Sunak has a crunch week ahead with the vote on his Rwanda plan on Tuesday, amid a possible rebellion after lawyers hired by the right of the party advised it was not fit for purpose.

While critics such as Lineker oppose the plans out of fears for migrants' human rights in the East African state, MPs on the Conservative right instead worry the plans would be vulnerable to challenges in the courts.

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