While admitting he was taking “a bit of a spanking” for being outspoken on the controversy, the former footballer said: “Things could be worse: Imagine just for a second, being a refugee having to flee from your home.”
Lineker’s stance was applauded online, support he later said he was “slightly overwhelmed” with.
The BBC presenter’s classy comeback came as people called for a “boycott” of The Sun - which today urged the BBC to fire “jug-eared” and “leftie luvvie” Lineker for his humanitarian stance. MP David Lammy also led a chorus of commentary around the “irony and downright hypocrisy” of the tabloid’s position. Lammy said the tabloid’s pages “poison our democracy”.
Lineker, 55, has been forthright on Twitter since several newspapers ran pictures of child refugees on their front pages, with The Sun among others using a “fun app” as evidence to determine the children’s real ages. The issue soured further when Tory MP David Davies called for teeth checks to help verify ages, a claim later backed by Labour’s former home secretary Jack Straw. In one deft tweet, Lineker demolished English Defence League founder Tommy Robinson with a single tweet.
The Sun attacked Lineker for branding those questioning the age of the young men entering the UK from Calais as “hideously racist” and on its front page suggested the BBC was under pressure to fire him for breaching its guidelines around impartiality.
Among those calling for a “boycott” of The Sun was former Newsnight economics editor Paul Mason.
The Sun sought to discredit Lineker for retweeting a suggestion that one of the child refugees - whose age was being debated by newspapers on Wednesday - was in fact an interpreter for the Home Office. The claim was later found to be untrue.
Lineker’s tweet did not endorse the suggestion as fact.
The Sun went on to quote two Tory MPs who questioned whether Lineker overstepped the mark by getting involved in the furore.
David Davies said: “I hope he apologises. I question if the BBC should be employing him when he seems to be using his fame to push out his rather emotive and controversial views.”
Lineker’s spokesman told The Sun: “He won’t be commenting, especially not to you.”
The newspaper separately, in an editorial on Friday, called for those who spread mistruths on Twitter to be held in account as, “many of those same liars are the noisiest advocates of the toughest possible State regulation of newspapers”.
The charity that made the suggestion that the child refugee was in fact an adult interpreter last night issued a statement seeking to clarify how the mistake was made.
A TACT spokesman said: “Our information was from a credible source. However, if the male is indeed a migrant and not an interpreter, TACT regrets any concern caused.”
Meanwhile, Nick Robinson prompted a discussion of a different kind when he mistakenly tweeted about The Sun’s editor Tony Gallagher’s “jugs”. He later clarified saying he meant lug holes.
But no one was bothered.