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Gary Lineker defends signing open letter criticising Rwanda policy after it sparks fresh BBC impartiality row

Gary Lineker has defended his right to speak out after he urged the Government to scrap its Rwanda plan, sparking a new BBC impartiality row.

The Match of the Day host was one of several celebrity signatories to an open letter demanding that leaders come up instead with a “fair new plan for refugees”.

Cabinet minister Grant Shapps on Monday noted previous controversy over Lineker’s political comments on social media, claiming he had been warned against a repetition by BBC bosses.

Right-wing Tory backbencher Jonathan Gullis claimed: “Yet another breach of the BBC’s impartiality rules by @GaryLineker.”

But the former England striker noted on Monday that after the previous row, new BBC guidelines were drawn up to allow high-profile presenters to express views on issues and policies as long as they stop short of political campaigning.

Retweeting the attack by Gullis, he wrote on X: “Jonathan hasn’t read the new guidelines….or, should I say, had someone read them to him?”

Responding to Lineker, Rishi Sunak's spokesman told reporters: “We are not going to be distracted by the views of individuals."

He added: “The PM is confident that this is an approach that works”, not just for the UK public “but to protect vulnerable people from criminal gangs”.

The letter co-signed by Lineker, coordinated by campaign coalition Together With Refugees, stated: "Our Government is still trying to banish people fleeing persecution to Rwanda despite the highest court in the land ruling the scheme unlawful.

"Tens of thousands of people are stuck in limbo waiting for their refugee protection to be processed, separated from their families and barred from working.

"These policies aren't working for refugees and they aren't working for local communities.

"That's why we have come together to say we've had enough. Enough of the division. Enough of the short-term thinking. Enough of the wasted human potential. And it's why we now call for something better."

Lineker, who has been outspoken on the issue of the Government's attitude to refugees, added: "We need a new system that reflects the will of the British people who have opened their homes, donated and volunteered in their local communities.

"That's why I'm backing this new campaign - because fair really can begin here."

Shapps said Lineker should stick to TV and questioned whether the Match of the Day host should continue expressing political views.

Asked if Lineker should express his views on the Rwanda policy while working for the BBC, the Defence Secretary told Times Radio: "No. And he's been through all of this before. The BBC have told him he shouldn't do this type of thing but still it continues.

"The point I would make to Mr Lineker is: what is right or moral about having people trafficked dangerously across the English Channel, losing their lives at sea, illegally entering the country? That is not a civilised, morally correct thing to do."

He added: "I just fundamentally disagree with him. What happens to him next is up to the BBC.

"As far as I see it, they have issued previous warnings to him, so it'll be interesting to see what they do and say at this point.

"I know millions of people watch him for his football commentary and TV presenting, I would have thought it's better to stick with that."

Gullis told the MailOnline: "This is yet again another breach by Gary Lineker that goes against the BBC's impartiality rules.

“But, sadly, spineless (BBC director-general) Tim Davie will do nothing about it, having surrendered to him previously.

“Either the BBC enforces the rules its presenters are bound by, or they no longer receive funding from the British taxpayer.”

Tory party deputy chairman Lee Anderson said: “For once in his life, Gary's absolutely right – we do need a system that reflects the will of the British people.

“What the people want is to stop the boats and to tell overpaid crisp salesmen to put a sock in it.

“Alongside cracking down on illegal migration, we need another robust system which keeps Lineker as far away from the public as possible, to give us all a rest from his Left-wing, out-of-touch nonsense.”

Lineker caused controversy earlier this year after criticising the Government's Illegal Immigration Bill - by posting a tweet in which he likened the language used by the Government to promote its asylum plans to that used in 1930s Germany.

It sparked a high-profile impartiality row at the BBC, leading to Lineker's brief suspension and numerous colleagues threatening to boycott Match Of The Day in solidarity with the presenter.

The BBC subsequently updated its social media rules for presenters of its flagship shows.

A BBC spokesman said: “Like all freelance presenters, Gary is free to contribute to projects for third parties, as long as these do not conflict with his BBC commitments; do not breach guidelines on conflicts of interest; nor bring the BBC into disrepute, and he does so regularly.”