Leading critics of the BBC are now "at war" with the broadcaster following the return of Gary Lineker to Match Of The Day Live yesterday. Opponents of the licence fee believe the case for scrapping the £159 charge has been turbo-charged by the corporation's handling of the debacle.

Lineker was taken off air last week after using Twitter to condemn the Government's asylum policy as "immeasurably cruel".

He also compared its language to that of 1930s Germany.

The star's temporary removal triggered a walkout of leading sports presenters, in solidarity with the former England captain.

But he returned yesterday to host BBC One's coverage of Manchester City's 6-0 FA Cup victory over Burnley.

At the start of the show Lineker, 62, said to pundit Alan Shearer: "It's great to be here."

Former Newcastle United star Shearer then apologised to viewers for the lack of football coverage on the BBC last weekend.

And he said that colleagues on TV and radio had been "put in an impossible situation".

The 52-year-old pundit said: "I just need to clear up and wanted to say how upset we were to all the audiences who missed out on last weekend.

"It was a really difficult situation for everyone concerned and, through no fault of their own, some really great people in TV and radio were put in an impossible situation. That wasn't fair.

"So it's good to get back to some sort of normality and be talking about football again."

Lineker added: "Absolutely, I echo those sentiments."

Before coming on air, Lineker posted a photo of himself at the Etihad Stadium and told Twitter followers: "Ah, the joys of being allowed to stick to football."

He was also pictured greeting former Labour Party spin doctor Alastair Campbell, who is a Burnley supporter and host of The Rest Is Politics, which is produced by Lineker's company Goalhanger Podcasts.

Mark Chapman hosted Match of the Day itself last night, which aired for only 20 minutes last weekend. Sunday's edition ran for just 15 minutes.

A Tory "red wall" MP res ponded to the return of Lineker - who enjoys a pay packet of more than £1million - saying: "I am now at war with the BBC."

Describing it as a victory for left-wingers, the MP said: "The Blob won. As it usually does."

But opponents of the licence fee believe that public anger has strengthened their cause.

Defund the BBC claims the "BBC is riddled with liberal left bias which those on the right should not be forced to fund".

Campaign director Rebecca Ryan said: "The BBC has torn itself apart over one left-wing TV presenter. Scandal after scandal, the BBC becomes more and more irrelevant every week.

"This is a turning point and we will be working closely with parliamentarians to ensure the fee is scrapped as soon as possible."

Mark Littlewood, director general of the Institute of Economic Affairs think-tank, said: "The Lineker debacle has fundamentally changed the terms of the debate on the BBC.

"The public should have the choice of whether they want to pay to watch someone who disparages their political beliefs and preferred political party."

A former cabinet minister said: "Lineker has basically shown up the senior management of the BBC as being extremely weak and, frankly, unable to govern the corporation."

And a high-profile source in the corporation said staff were "very angry" with how director-general Tim Davie had handled the crisis.

Mr Davie made a renewed commitment to impartiality his "number one priority" when he arrived in the role in 2020.

But the source said staff are angered Mr Davie "didn't think through his impartiality crusade when he launched it".

And former Channel 5 boss David Elstein also criticised the BBC chief, saying: "Tim Davie did not think ahead when he suspended Gary, and so did not anticipate the Spartacus revolt."

However, he does not expect an imminent axing of the licence fee - not after proposals to privatise Channel 4 were ditched.

Mr Elstein said the Gov ernment is "far too insecure to tackle the licence fee", adding: "It will last until the Beeb finally realises there is a better way."

A BBC spokesman said: "Impartiality is the cornerstone of the BBC and fundamental to the trust audiences have in our programming and services.

"The licence fee is the agreed method of funding until at least 2027. It is right that there is a debate on whether the licence fee needs to evolve."

Meanwhile, the BBC is reportedly facing a battle to keep its £133million-a-year TV highlights package. Reports suggest that ITV may bid when the auction is held later this year.

2023-03-18T22:08:15Z dg43tfdfdgfd