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The Guardian

Gary Lineker thought BBC had agreed he could tweet about refugees, says agent

By Geneva Abdul,

Celebrity Sightings In London - March 13, 2023<br>LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 13: Gary Lineker leaving his house to take his dog for a walk on March 13, 2023 in London, England. (Photo by Neil Mockford/GC Images) Photograph: Neil Mockford/GC Images

Gary Lineker thought he had a special agreement with the BBC’s director general to tweet publicly on matters surrounding refugees and immigration, his agent has said.

Jon Holmes, who has worked with the former footballer since 1980, was caught up in the crisis last week after Lineker publicly criticised the government’s asylum policy plans.

It resulted in widespread disruption for the BBC’s sports programming and threatened to bring down the corporation’s most senior leaders as Lineker was taken off the air and presenters walked out in solidarity.

“Gary takes a passionate interest in refugees and immigration and, as he saw it, had a special agreement with Tim Davie, the BBC’s director general, to tweet about these issues,” Holmes wrote in the New Statesman on Wednesday.

Holmes said he was summoned to BBC offices last Friday, where little was achieved in trying to resolve the situation. “But when they asked me how the matter could be resolved, I told them taking Gary off the air would not be helpful and we needed to clarify the guidelines,” said Holmes.

Shortly after the discussions, he was notified of the BBC’s statement to take Lineker off the air. Holmes said discussions were resumed with the broadcaster online by Sunday, after limited sports programming on Saturday after the walkouts. Holmes said he resisted saying: “I told you so.”

“In my view, the BBC did not have to put itself in that position and publish its statement,” he said, adding they had agreed there would be no statement from Lineker and Holmes in the meeting. “It’s best not to feed the beast. You starve it – that’s how you achieve a quick resolution to problems like these.”

The row began when the former England footballer responded to a video message by the home secretary, Suella Braverman, about stopping people crossing the Channel in small boats. He wrote: “Good heavens, this is beyond awful,” and responding to comments, likened the government’s language to that of 1930s Germany.

The fallout has sparked a larger debate on impartiality rules and to whom and when they apply. It comes as the BBC chair, Richard Sharp, is also under pressure over the role he played in securing an £800,000 loan for Boris Johnson , when he was prime minister, at a time when Sharp himself was applying for the post of BBC chair.

Lineker, the BBC’s highest-paid presenter, works for the corporation in a freelance capacity and is not responsible for news or political content. The broadcaster’s social media guidelines which Ofcom have said need updating – say individuals linked or primarily associated with the BBC should not express a view for or against any policy that is a matter of current political debate.

BBC guidelines on social media use for staff and freelancers are – let us say – a bit vague,” said Holmes, whose remarks come days after his client returned to presenting sport on the BBC. “If Gary said ‘vote communist’, or ‘vote Liberal’, or ‘vote Brexit ’, would it make any difference?”

The BBC has been approached for comment.

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