Rishi Sunak defends BBC against bias accusations after Lineker row

Rishi Sunak today said he is “pleased” the row between Gary Lineker and the BBC has been resolved. The Prime Minister also defended the public broadcaster against accusations of bias amid calls from furious Tory MPs for the licence fee to be scrapped.

Mr Sunak’s comments come after BBC Director-General Tim Davie this morning confirmed the football pundit will be returning to Match of the Day after he was stood down over the weekend following a row over his tweet slamming the Government’s new laws on small boats and comparing language used with 1930s Germany.

Asked by the BBC during a visit to San Diego, US, whether there was an issue of political bias at the corporation, the PM said: “No, it’s right that the BBC is impartial and it takes its obligations on impartiality very seriously.”

Pressed on whether he thought the broadcaster did take seriously its impartiality obligation, he continued: “These are matters for the BBC to resolve itself.

“I was pleased that the issue with Gary Lineker has been resolved and we can all look forward to watching Match of the Day again – not least as Southampton managed to get a point at the weekend.

“I’ll be looking forward to catching up on those highlights when I get back.

“It was right that that was a matter resolved between the BBC and Gary. I’m glad that that’s happened.”

It comes after Mr Sunak defended his asylum policy as the row rumbled on over the weekend.

In a statement, he said: “As Prime Minister, I have to do what I believe is right, respecting that not everyone will always agree. That is why I have been unequivocal in my approach to stopping the boats.

“Gary Lineker was a great footballer and is a talented presenter. I hope that the current situation between Gary Lineker and the BBC can be resolved in a timely manner, but it is rightly a matter for them, not the Government.

“While that process is ongoing, it is important that we maintain perspective, particularly given the seriousness of the issue at hand. Forty-five thousand people crossed the channel illegally last year, many of whom have been exploited or trafficked by criminal gangs, putting their lives in danger.

“We need to break this cycle of misery once and for all and the policy we set out this week I believe aims to do just that. It is not only the fair and moral thing to do, it is also the compassionate thing to do.

“There are no easy answers to solving this problem, but I believe leadership is about taking the tough decisions to fix problems. I know not everyone will always agree, but I do believe this is fair and right.”

Match Of The Day aired for only 20 minutes on Saturday without accompanying commentary or analysis from presenters, with Sunday’s edition following a similar format and running for a reduced 15 minutes.

Mr Davie today confirmed the 62-year-old will return to Match of the Day this Saturday as he announced a review of the BBC’s social media policy.

In his statement issued on Monday, the BBC Director-General said: “Everyone recognises this has been a difficult period for staff, contributors, presenters and, most importantly, our audiences. I apologise for this.

“The potential confusion caused by the grey areas of the BBC’s social media guidance that was introduced in 2020 is recognised. I want to get matters resolved and our sport content back on air.”

In a series of Twitter posts this morning, Mr Lineker described the past few days as “surreal”, adding that he was “delighted we have navigated a way through this”.

He also appeared to address the issue of migration again, saying his weekend “doesn’t compare to having to flee your home from persecution or war to seek refuge in a land far away”.

He added: “We remain a country of predominantly tolerant, welcoming and generous people. Thank you.”

In a further tweet, Mr Lineker thanked Mr Davie for his “understanding during a difficult period”.

He said: “He has an almost impossible job keeping everybody happy, particularly in the area of impartiality. I am delighted that we’ll continue to fight the good fight, together.”

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