‘Gary speaks for me, not Braverman.'
Gary Lineker found himself the focus of an intense media storm this week, following comments he made on Twitter about the government’s recently unveiled plan to crack down on small boat crossings.
The story dramatically escalated late on Friday when it was announced that Lineker had been suspended from the BBC for breaching impartiality guidelines. The host’s fellow commentators Ian Wright, Alan Shearer, Micah Richards and Jermaine Jenas, have all said they will not appear on the show in support of Lineker.
The story may have developed into a wider row about the current direction of the BBC and concerns that the corporation takes its lead from the right-wing press, but the outpour of support for Lineker shows the level of public opposition to the government’s immigration policy.
The Illegal Migration Bill will change the law so that people who arrive in the UK illegally will not be able to stay here and will instead be detained and then promptly removed. They will also face a permanent ban on returning to the UK, except under extreme circumstances.
In the tweet, the Match of the Day presenter described the plan as an “immeasurably cruel policy directed at the most vulnerable people in language not dissimilar to that used by Germany in the 30s,” and reminded that the UK takes far fewer refugees than other major European countries.
The comments drew an angry reaction from Downing Street and Tory MPs, who called on the BBC to sack Lineker. The Home Secretary described the tweet as “irresponsible,” sentiment echoed by some political pundits in the right-wing press who condemned the 1930s’ remark as an ‘offensive Nazi Germany comparison.’
But what was more notable was the torrent of support towards the former England striker and his comments.
An #ImWithGary hashtag started trending, as the Twittersphere erupted into solidarity with the Match of the Day host and people sharing their opposition towards the immigration policy, saying they are ‘with Gary, not Braverman.’
Lineker said he had “never known such love and support in my life than I’m getting this morning (England World Cup goals aside, possibly?), adding: “I want to thank each and every one of you. It means a lot. I’ll continue to try and speak up for those poor souls that have no voice. Cheers all.”
Politicians have been notably quiet about the story, with the exception of a few.
“Where’s the political support?” asked Green MP Caroline Lucas, adding: “Gary is right to call out this morally repugnant policy, express solidarity with refugees fleeing oppression and learn lessons from the 30s which started with language that dehumanised minorities. Footballers showing more backbone than MPs #ImWithGary.”
Providing reasoning for her backing of Lineker, Lucas said she thinks that when “Suella Braverman talks about waves of illegal arrivals, when she talks about criminals breaking into Britain, that is actually extremely dangerous,” adding:
“I don’t think what Gary Lineker was saying was flippant, I think he was making a very serious point, and to that extent I would support him in what he said.”
What the story reveals is that when it comes to the government’s harsh stance immigration and stopping small boats arriving in Britain, which Rishi Sunak has made one of his top priorities, the people of Britain are not wholly approving, and don’t share the Tories’ contempt for refugees.
‘Racist, illegal and unworkable’
When unveiling the new controversial plan aimed at blocking undocumented migrants, Suella Braverman even admitted it may not be legal. The United Nations and other global bodies immediately criticised the policy. The UN refugee policy agency (UNHCR) said, if passed, it would ‘amount to an asylum ban,’ saying it would be a “clear breach” of the 1951 Refugee Convention, which defines refugees as those who are seeking refuge from persecution.
Enver Solomon, CEO of the charity Refugee Council, told CNN that the government’s new legislation “ignores the fundamental point that most of the people in small boats are men, women and children escaping terror and bloodshed from countries including Afghanistan, Iran and Syria.”
“We need an approach that replaces the chaos and cost of what we have now and focuses on compassion and competence, creating safe and orderly routes for refugees to reach the UK, such as refugee visas, and always give people a fair hearing so their rights are respected,” said Solomon.
Criticism towards the Bill and the immense support Gary Lineker was showered with consolidates the findings of earlier research that the UK public is in favour of welcoming refugees from around the world and want to make people’s journeys to safety easier not harder.
Released when the government’s Nationality and Borders Bill was passed into law in April 2022, which meant that for the first time, people arriving in the UK seeking protection as a refugee will have their claim assessed based on how they arrived into the country, rather than the dangers they have fled, research by the British Red Cross found that found that 74 percent of the UK public has sympathy towards refugees and asylum seekers. This was markedly higher that the 59 percent in support of refugees in December 2021.
The research also found that there has been a substantial decline in those who say the UK has accepted too many refugees.
The flood of support for Gary Lineker this week only confirms what the British Red Cross’s research found, that when it comes immigration much of the people in Britain don’t share the Tories’ contempt for refugees who are risking their lives making the perilous journey across the English Channel.
Gabrielle Pickard-Whitehead is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward
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