Gary Lineker told ‘put a sock in it’ as furious Tory minister blasts BBC host
Shamir Shah, BBC chairman elect, says Gary Lineker broke rules
Defence Secretary Grant Shapps has told Gary Lineker to “put a sock in it” and stop pushing his Left-wing agenda on social media. The Tory Cabinet minister became embroiled in a row with the Match of the Day host after he took a swipe at him on Twitter.
Mr Shapps said: “As a Christmas present to the nation it would be wonderful if Mr Lineker put a sock in it.”
He hit back after the TV chief tipped to become the new BBC chairman accused the former England football striker of breaking impartiality guidelines. Dr Samir Shah said Lineker had breached corporation rules by using the social media platform, now known as X, to taunt Mr Shapps.
The former BBC politics and current affairs boss also claimed Lineker’s public support for a letter opposing the Government’s Rwanda scheme for refugees was not “very helpful”.
His intervention follows years of controversy over Mr Lineker’s attacks on the Tories and their policies in areas like immigration.
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Critics claim the BBC’s top earner – with a salary of £1.35million – should be strictly bound by rules that bar stars from showing political bias. Mr Shapps added: “It’s for the BBC to decide what action might be taken against Gary Lineker. He is allowed his view of course – but he shouldn’t be using his status at the BBC, which is funded by taxpayers, to promote his political take.
“I also fundamentally disagree with what he said. The Government is working to find solutions for illegal immigration. There is nothing moral in keeping a status quo where people are trafficked illegally and in a hugely dangerous way across the English Channel.
“Maybe we could agree that I’ll stop commenting on football, which I know little about, and he can stop commenting on politics, which he clearly knows almost nothing about.”
Former party chairman Sir Jake Berry accused the ex-Tottenham, Everton and Barcelona star of straying into politics by branding MPs “thick”. The Rossendale and Darwen MP said on his TalkTV show: “He’s a football commentator, so why are we constantly hearing about his views on politics?”
Former BBC director of television Danny Cohen called for Lineker to be sacked, saying he was now like a footballer with an out-of-control ego. He said: “Mr Lineker is behaving as if he is much bigger than his club – the BBC – with the insolent inference there is nothing that his manager – the director-general – can or will do to stop him.
“If the BBC does nothing about it, its management looks ever weaker and ever less in control of the social media outpost of the people who represent it in the eyes of the public.”
Dr Shah, the Government’s preferred candidate to take over from Richard Sharp – who quit over his financial links to former prime minister Boris Johnson – was being quizzed by the Commons culture committee. He said the sports presenter’s tweets attacking Mr Shapps for allegedly using pseudonyms outside his main political work and a social media clash with MP Jonathan Gullis were a problem.
“The more recent tweet where Mr Lineker identified two politicians does on the face of it seem to breach those particular guidelines,” he said. “I’m not sure how egregious it is but it does. I would imagine the BBC is now looking at that and considering its response.”
He added that Lineker – who claims his tweets are allowed under the impartiality rules – falls in a “grey area”. Asked by Damian Green MP if he thought Lineker was giving the BBC “two fingers”, he said if he were chairman: “I would be thinking if we have the balance right between freedom of expression and the duty to be impartial.”
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Dr Shah told the committee that Lineker was not in breach of guidelines by signing a letter calling for the Government to scrap the Rwanda scheme and find a “fair new plan for refugees”.
But he did not think the row “was 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 continued: “Non-news presenters are free to express their opinions but there is some guidance on civility, manner, and not to make ad hominem attacks.”
The Indian-born executive continued: “And I share your frustration. I would invite the director-general to find a solution because we really need to find a solution.
“It’s a perfectly proper thing for the board to ask the executive whether the new guidelines have achieved their intention. It may well be that they may need to review it again.”
The row erupted on Monday morning when Mr Shapps said Lineker should stick to football and stop “meddling” in other matters during an interview. In response, Lineker posted a photograph of Mr Shapps with his name under it alongside three more images of the politician with the names Michael Green, Corinne Stockheath and Sebastian Fox used instead.
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Lineker wrote: “A tad rich coming from someone who can’t even stick to one name. 4 chaps Shapps.” Mr Shapps was previously accused of breaching the code of conduct for ministers and MPs by continuing to work as a marketer of get-rich-quick schemes under the pseudonym Michael Green after entering Parliament.
He has also been accused of using the pseudonyms Sebastian Fox and Corinne Stockheath. The twist is the latest in a saga sparked by Lineker’s tweets, which led to a review of guidelines by John Hardie, former editor-in-chief of ITN.
A BBC spokesman said: “While the guidance does allow people to talk about issues that matter to them, it is also clear that individuals should be civil and not call into question anyone’s character. We discuss issues that arise with presenters as necessary.”
The Department for Culture, Media and Sport declined to comment.
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