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Gary Lineker's suspension from Match of the Day is distracting from 'disgraceful' migrants bill, Jeremy Corbyn tells LBC
11 March 2023, 11:45 | Updated: 11 March 2023, 12:07
Jeremy Corbyn has told LBC that the debate over Gary Lineker's suspension from Match of the Day is a sideshow that is distracting attention from the government's "disgraceful" plan to tackle migrants crossing the Channel in small boats.
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The former Labour leader said Lineker was within his rights to express his opinion as a sports broadcaster.
Lineker was pulled off air over a tweet that criticised the government's new Illegal Immigration Bill, comparing it to 1930s Germany.
Match of the Day itself will go ahead on Saturday without a presenter, pundits, or commentators a series of walkouts. Football Focus and Final Score have been axed this week after hosts Alex Scott and Jason Mohammad said they did not want to present.
Mr Corbyn told LBC's Matt Frei on Saturday: "[Lineker's] got a perfect right to express an opinion even within the BBC's own code. They are allowed to express opinions... of a partisan nature, providing it doesn't impinge on their area of work. His area is sport.
Jeremy Corbyn expresses support for Gary Lineker
"Others, Alan Sugar and many others, have made the most partisan comments in the past... against me particularly. I remember it very, very well and absolutely nothing was done despite complaints being made to the BBC.
"They've sort of come down like a ton of bricks on Gary Lineker, and whilst I support what Gary said, and I think he's a decent human being in the way he's put it and said it, unfortunately the whole debate now is shifting on to Gary and the BBC and ignoring the issue of this, I think, disgraceful piece of legislation that Parliament's about to debate on Monday."
He added that he thought Lineker should be reinstated, and that the decision to pull him from the air was "extremely damaging" for the BBC.
Jeremy Corbyn: Lineker should be reinstated straight away
Podcaster and former adviser to Tony Blair Alastair Campbell also told Matt that Lineker was within his rights to criticise the government's language.
Asked if the presenter's use of words was "over the top", Mr Campbell said: "I don't believe so, and I'll tell you why I feel this so strongly. I have got a book coming out in a few months and it's about the state of our politics and part of that's about the state of our media.
"And I actually look at, in the United States and in the UK, some of the parallels between 30s Germany and what's been happening in our debate... where do you think Drain the Swamp came from? That was Mussolini...
"I mean, this is disgusting stuff," said Mr Campbell, whose podcast is produced by Lineker's company.
He described Lineker as "somebody who, without shouting it from the rooftops, has been consistent in his support for refugees, who doesn't go on the television and say, vote this way or vote that way.
Alastair Campbell doesn't think Gary Lineker's tweet was over the top
"If he'd said what he said sitting in the Match of the Day chair after... Liverpool against Arsenal, I can see why the BBC would have a point, I can see why the Tories would be angry, but he didn't. He said it on Twitter."
On Friday it was announced that Lineker had been taken off Match of the Day until an agreement is reached over his social media use, after he criticised the government in a series of tweets earlier in the week, comparing language used to launch new government asylum policy with "that used by Germany in the 30s".
A BBC spokesperson said earlier Lineker had been asked to "step back" until there is "an agreed and clear position on his use of social media".
But a source close to Lineker said he had not agreed to "step back" and was instead removed as he is "unwilling to apologise for his comments" on the government's controversial asylum policy.
Following his suspension, MOTD pundits Alan Shearer and Ian Wright announced they wouldn't be appearing on Saturday's programme in solidarity with the presenter, with Match of the Day 2 presenter Mark Chapman also reportedly ruling himself out.
Regular pundits Jermaine Jenas and Micah Richards said though they weren't scheduled to appear, they would have sat out Saturday's show if they had been asked.
A BBC spokesperson said: "Some of our pundits have said that they don't wish to appear on the programme while we seek to resolve the situation with Gary.
"We understand their position and we have decided that the programme will focus on match action without studio presentation or punditry.
"BBC commentators have since announced they won't take part either.
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."