Ex-BBC chief Richard Ayre issues warning over Gary Lineker

‘You can’t have one of the BBC’s crown jewels comparing Suella Braverman to the Third Reich’: Ex-BBC chief warns ‘heads will roll’ over Gary Lineker’s tweets – and says Tim Davie could be forced to dismiss the star

  • Ex-editorial policy chief Richard Ayre says Tim Davie might have to ‘let him go’  
  • News staff are said to be ‘boiling’ with anger that he breached impartiality rules

BBC boss Tim Davie could have to fire Gary Lineker over the Match of the Day presenter’s anti-Tory tweets flouting strict impartiality rules, it was claimed today.

Richard Ayre, the BBC’s former controller of editorial policy, warned that Mr Davie might have to ‘let him go unless he can be certain that this is the end of it’.

The £1.35million-a-year host has faced heavy criticism after comparing the language used during the announcement of the Illegal Migration Bill with 1930s Germany.

Lineker has doubled down on his remarks but the BBC’s news staff were said to be ‘boiling’ with anger that he breached impartiality rules that they have to obey.

Mr Ayre described Lineker as ‘one of the BBC’s crown jewels’, adding: ‘Just as you can’t have sundry members of the House of Windsor slagging off the government of the day because it would call the role of the King into question, you can’t have a member of the BBC royal family comparing Suella Braverman to the Third Reich.

Match of the Day host Gary Lineker, pictured at Wembley Stadium in London on April 16, 2022

Home Secretary Suella Braverman, pictured outside Downing Street in London on Tuesday

‘It just isn’t acceptable. So the question is do you stop, and really stop – not just pause, not wait a few months – do you stop now or do you have to go somewhere else?’

READ MORE – Is Gary Lineker about to get the boot from the BBC? Staff are ‘boiling with anger’ at the star’s disdain for rules they obey as he fails to apologise and doubles down on his Nazi slur 


Asked whether director general Mr Davie could have to ‘let him (Mr Lineker) go’, Mr Ayre told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning: ‘I don’t think he is going to have any choice but to let him go unless he can be certain that this is the end of it.’

The former BBC trustee, asked also about a separate investigation into BBC chairman Richard Sharp concerning allegations of cronyism in his appointment, added: ‘It is quite likely that within the next few days or weeks, we’ll perhaps see two heads roll – one from the left and one from the right, the chairman and Gary Lineker.

‘And then maybe once each side has scored a goal, we can get back to normal business.’

He continued: ‘The BBC has an imperative over the next year or more to walk an absolutely straight line politically. You can almost sense… the start of a Government strategy here – re-energised disillusioned Brexit voters blame continuing immigration on lawyers like Keir Starmer, blame it on the Supreme Court, blame it on better still the European Court of Human Rights, blame it on the Refugee Convention, blame it on woke media, blame it on woke metropolitan elites.

‘It’s absolutely essential that if this culture war is going to be part of the next election campaign, the BBC’s role is simple. People like you [presenter Nick Robinson] have to ask the toughest questions, on the people who run the government and the people who want to run the government. But you’ve got to do it completely impartially.’

Richard Ayre, the BBC’s former controller of editorial policy, said the corporation’s director general could have to dismiss Gary Lineker following his recent Twitter commentary

BBC director-general Tim Davie chose his words carefully when asked about it, saying: ‘The BBC absolutely puts the highest value on impartiality and that’s clearly important to us’

Mr Ayre also said: ‘I think he’s got to consider whether he wants to remain simply the best and the most-watched and the most-admired sports presenter in the land. 

94% want him sacked 

A staggering 96 per cent of Mail+ readers think the BBC should sack Gary Lineker due to his remarks on small boats.

According to The Mail+ poll, only 4 per cent believe the presenter should keep his job after making comments deemed ‘not acceptable’ by Downing Street. 

The poll asked: ‘Should the BBC sack Lineker after he compared small boats plan to Nazi Germany?’ Last night at least 3,695 readers had responded – 96 per cent of whom voted ‘yes’.

‘I don’t think I’ve ever come across a presenter with more natural flair than Gary Lineker as well as his knowledge of the business… he’s got to consider, does he want to do that for the BBC on the biggest channel in Britain, or does he want to go to a lesser channel, get paid probably quite a lot more money than he’s even paid now and become a social media influencer, which he’d be very good at.’

Amid calls for Lineker to be sacked, the former England captain has defiantly resumed tweeting about the politically charged topic.

He told his Twitter followers yesterday that he had never known such ‘love and support’ and said he would ‘continue to try and speak ‘Irresponsible’ Lineker faces BBC crisis talks up’.

Former BBC director Roger Mosey said his sympathies lie with Lineker – but that he feels impartiality is the best policy for the corporation’s presenters.

Mr Mosey, who was formerly head of BBC television news and director of sport, told Times Radio today: ‘Personally, my sympathies are on Gary’s side of this argument and I don’t like that the Tory right are attacking Gary or wanting him sacked, I have a bit less sympathy with (that).

‘But I think the test for people who are saying ‘Actually, you know what, I agree with Gary Lineker’ is, what if he was tweeting ‘Brexit is working, Suella Braverman is right, refugees should go back to Calais’? And that is where, with impartiality, you have to see the sharp end of it and maybe people taking an opposite view.

‘Could you imagine the BBC’s lead presenter through the referendum campaign, campaigning for Leave and all the people now supporting Gary saying ‘That’s fine’.

Immigration minister Robert Jenrick, whose wife’s parents were Holocaust survivors, said the presenter was ‘so far out of step with the British public’ and should be ‘shown a red card’

‘Impartiality… the problem is, it can be tough sometimes, but it’s the best policy in difficult circumstances for the BBC where it has to try to manage a disputatious country and, at times, disputatious presenters.’

Mr Mosey added that the problem with allowing Lineker to express his views openly is it would allow other BBC employees to question why they are not entitled to give their opinions on issues.

A long run of own goals

OCT 2016: With critics saying supposed child refugees in Calais looked older than 18, BBC presenter Gary Lineker tweets: ‘The treatment by some towards these young refugees is hideously racist.’

DEC 2018: Fellow BBC broadcaster Jonathan Agnew, a cricket pundit, writes in a tweet to Lineker: ‘I’d be sacked if I followed your example.’

AUG 2022: Lineker criticises Tory legislation, tweeting: ‘As a politician how could you ever, under any circumstances, bring yourself to vote for pumping sewage into our seas?’

SEP 2022: BBC boss Tim Davie says reining in Lineker’s tweeting was a ‘work in progress’.

OCT 2022: The BBC finds Lineker breached its impartiality rules over comments he made about the Conservatives having ‘Russian donors’.

JAN 14, 2023: Lineker retweets a post calling Home Secretary Suella Braverman ‘utterly devoid of sensibility’ after her exchange with a Holocaust survivor.

FEB 15: Lineker posts from an airport arrivals queue: ‘Another monster queue at customs at a European city next to deserted lanes for EU members. The delights of Brexit.’

FEB 20: He shares a video that calls for illegal immigrants arriving on small boats to be granted citizenship. He wrote: ‘Why leave them to fester in a hotel with the far-Right screaming abuse at them? Give them legal status and get them going.’

FEB 27: Appears to mock Rishi Sunak’s landmark EU deal over Northern Ireland, writing: ‘So we’re getting Brexit done… again.’

MAR 7: He calls Mrs Braverman’s measures to stop the small boats ‘beyond awful’ and ‘an immeasurably cruel policy directed at the most vulnerable people in language that is not dissimilar to that used by Germany in the 30s…’

‘If you receive £1.4 million from the BBC, you need to abide by the BBC’s rules. And in the case of presenters – and Gary’s the face of the World Cup and he’s the face of Match Of The Day – it clearly would be better for the BBC if he wasn’t on one side of the referendum debate and if he wasn’t criticising current serving politicians’, he said.

BBC sources say Lineker will be rebuked over his latest remarks – but the corporation refused to make any new statement yesterday.

Director-general Mr Davie chose his words carefully when asked about the controversy, saying: ‘The BBC absolutely puts the highest value on impartiality and that’s clearly important to us.’

In his original tweet on Tuesday, Lineker commented on a Home Office video in which Home Secretary Suella Braverman unveiled the Government’s plans to stop migrants crossing the Channel on small boats and said the UK is being ‘overwhelmed’.

He 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.’

Lineker’s remarks triggered a wave of criticism from Tories and even BBC staff.

Former head of television news at the corporation, Roger Mosey, said there were ‘fundamentally incompatible positions’ between the BBC and Lineker, saying the situation was ‘something of car crash’.

Speaking to Radio 4’s The Media Show, he said the BBC had been ‘a bit weak and wobbly’ on the star’s social media activity over the past five or six years.

As the corporation’s bosses dithered over how to respond, there were claims from Conservative MPs that they were ‘sticking their head in the sand’ over the row.

Downing Street described Lineker’s criticism as ‘not acceptable’ and ‘disappointing’, while Mrs Braverman said his comments were ‘irresponsible’.

Immigration minister Robert Jenrick, whose wife’s parents were Holocaust survivors, said the presenter was ‘so far out of step with the British public’ and should be ‘shown a red card’.

There are concerns at the BBC that Lineker was ‘harming the perception’ of the broadcaster, a source said. 

One insider added: ‘Lots of BBC journalists are boiling about it because impartiality must be sacrosanct.’

Another insider said it was time for Mr Davie to ‘make a key call’ on Lineker’s future. 

A separate source at the BBC said they expected Lineker to leave the corporation over the row.

BBC Radio 4 Today programme presenter Mr Robinson yesterday highlighted the discrepancy with the strict rules about impartiality that the broadcaster’s news staff must follow.

He said to the corporation’s media editor Katie Razzall: ‘Let’s be clear, if you or I said something like this, we would be fired.’

Mr Robinson added that if Lineker carried on in the same manner, ‘they’ve got to decide from the director general down whether they fire a guy who is very popular and very good at what he does’.

Many were astonished that, rather than avoiding further controversy, Lineker was back on Twitter yesterday. 

He said: ‘Great to see the freedom of speech champions out in force this morning demanding silence from those with whom they disagree.’

Tory MP Peter Bone said of the BBC: ‘There is no point sticking their head in the sand and hoping it will go away. It won’t. He will do it again.’

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said she did not think it was ‘right to make comparisons with the 1930s’, but ‘people can have their own views’.

However Piers Morgan defended Lineker, arguing that the Match Of The Day host is ‘not a news reporter’.

The Talk TV host said Lineker’s remarks were ‘clearly incendiary’ but that his opinions ‘should not matter to the BBC’s news output’.

A spokesman for Lineker declined to comment.

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