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Rishi Sunak frustrated by Gary Lineker row overshadowing immigration plan

Rishi Sunak Gary Lineker

Gary Lineker called the prime minister’s plan ‘immeasurably cruel’ (Picture: Getty Images/Reuters)

Rishi Sunak has appeared frustrated that the Gary Lineker row is dominating headlines in place of his immigration plans.

The prime minister said the ‘real substantive issue here is 45,000 people illegally crossing the Channel’ and claimed he is ‘happy to talk about his policy with anyone’.

But when asked if he would meet the Match of the Day presenter to discuss the matter, he seemed to backtrack and replied: ‘It’s not about any one person’.

It comes amid ‘growing confidence’ that the former England player will return to host the popular BBC show following a weekend which saw the broadcaster’s sports coverage suffer severe disruption.

Lineker was told to stand down after branding the Government’s plans to tackle small boat crossings as ‘immeasurably cruel’.

Football coverage on BBC TV and radio shows was hit across the weekend as fellow pundits, presenters and reporters – including Alan Shearer, Ian Wright and Alex Scott – walked out in solidarity.

Speaking to reporters on a flight to a defence summit in the US, Mr Sunak said people should get ‘perspective’ and insisted his policy was ‘compassionate’, The Telegraph reports.

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‘The real substantive issue here is about the fact that 45,000 people illegally crossed the Channel last year. That number has gone up four or five times in just two years, and is set to keep increasing,’ he said.

‘That is the substantive issue that we should be talking about. And I believe that we’ve put forward a set of proposals and a policy that will resolve that situation and we’ll do it in an effective way, it will do it fairly and it will do it with compassion.

‘And that is what we should be talking about. And I’m happy to talk about that policy with anyone.’

After dodging a question on whether he would be willing to meet Lineker, he described him as a ‘very talented presenter’ and said it was an issue ‘they need to resolve themselves’.

But it comes after the PM’s spokesperson labelled Lineker’s remarks ‘not acceptable’ and ‘disappointing’ last week.

Other Tories have blasted the football pundit, with Chancellor Jeremy Hunt calling his comments ‘very tasteless’.

Under the proposed new rules, refugees entering the UK illegally will be permanently banned from claiming asylum or returning to the country once expelled.

They will not be protected by the UK’s modern slavery laws and will be deported to ‘a safe third country like Rwanda’ at the earliest convenience, the government has said.

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