In an unusual twist in British politics, a national football hero and the BBC became the unlikely protagonists in an intense political debate on immigration last week. Gary Lineker, a former professional footballer and popular TV presenter, made international headlines for criticizing the government’s rhetoric on immigration. The BBC then got caught up in the issue too, when the state broadcaster suspended Lineker from his perch hosting its iconic Match of the Day weekend highlight show.
The BBC claimed that Lineker had broken its rules on impartiality by posting a tweet comparing the language used by British Home Secretary Suella Braverman to describe migrants and refugees to the rhetoric on display in “1930s Germany.” The move backfired, however, as Lineker’s co-hosts refused to do the show in his absence, leading the BBC to lift his suspension this week.
The controversy was also a major embarrassment for the government of British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, calling further attention to its immigration policies that are not only contravening international law, but increasingly out of step with the British public. It began during a recent parliamentary debate, when Braverman used dehumanizing words to describe people who are attempting to arrive in the U.K. through irregular channels, referring to “waves of illegal arrivals breaching our borders” and “criminals breaking into Britain daily.”* Braverman was defending the government’s latest proposed immigration policy, which according to the United Nations refugee agency would amount to “an asylum ban.”