Nicola Sturgeon has waded into the debate over Gary Lineker, calling the BBC’s decision “indefensible”. The outgoing Prime Minister said the decision to suspend the Match of the Day host is “undermining free speech in the face of political pressure…and it always seems to be right wing pressure it caves to”.
The Match of the Day host faced ferocious backlash after he compared the government’s new migration policy to the tactics of Nazi Germany in tweets earlier this week.
As a BBC presenter, Lineker is expected to be politically impartial. Today the broadcaster said he believed that his “recent social media activity” had been a breach of guidelines and that he should “keep away from taking sides on party politics or political controversies”.
The broadcaster said it had “extensive discussions with Gary and team in recent days” and “has decided that he will step back from presenting Match of the Day until we’ve got an agreed and clear position on his use of social media.
“When it comes to leading our football and sports coverage, Gary is second to none,” it continued in a statement.
The Labor Party also weighed in on the debate, with a source saying: “The BBC’s cowardly decision to take Gary Lineker off air is an assault on free speech in the face of political pressure”.
The Lib Dems piled in too, saying: “Today is a reminder that we need a properly independent BBC that upholds our best British values, is strong enough to stand up to political pressure and defend freedom of speech”.
But Conservative MPs praised the decision to suspend Mr Lineker.
Conservative Party Deputy Chairman Lee Anderson joked that he hopes the suspension will give Mr Lineker time to “reflect”, noting that the Match of the Day presenter “receives a large amount of money from the great British public – the majority of which do not share his views.”
Jonathon Gullis, Tory MP for Stoke North, told the Daily Express: “I’m pleased to see that the BBC have finally decided to take decisive action in ensuring that Gary Lineker steps back whilst they discuss the terms of his contract, which is very simple – while he works for and is paid by the state-funded broadcaster, the rules are very clear that he should be politically neutral.”
He added: “If he is unable to do that he should not remain in the employment of the BBC.”
Former Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries also celebrated Mr Lineker’s suspension, saying she is “delighted” with the decision.
She added: “I can’t see how they can continue with Lineker as a presenter. They are a Public Service Broadcaster which has to follow Ofcom guidance.”