Sir Keir Starmer has described BBC chairman Richard Sharp’s position as “increasingly untenable” over the Gary Lineker row.
Mr Sharp is facing calls to resign amid the ongoing impartiality row at the corporation, despite an agreement for the star presenter to return to Match Of The Day.
Labour and others have suggested he is compromised by the investigation into whether he failed to properly share details of his involvement in an £800,000 loan for Boris Johnson when he was at No 10.
Speaking just before the BBC announced the presenter will return to the flagship football show, the Labour leader said: “I think Richard Sharp’s position is increasingly untenable.”
Sir Keir added: “I think most people watching the complete mess of the last few days would say how on earth is he still in position and Gary Lineker has been taken off air? This is a mess of the BBC’s own making.”
The 62-year-old star was taken off air at the weekend for a tweet comparing the language used to launch a Rishi Sunak’s asylum crackdown bill to that of 1930s Germany.
But confirming Lineker would return to Match of the Day, director-general Tim Davie said the presenter “will abide by the editorial guidelines” until a review of the BBC’s social media policy is complete.
Mr Davie said he apologised for the disruption to output in recent days, adding: “The potential confusion caused by the grey areas of the BBC’s social media guidance that was introduced in 2020 is recognised.”
Former BBC news executive Sir Craig Oliver described asking Lineker to return as a “capitulation” by the corporation. Sir Craig, the No 10 communications chief under David Cameron, added: “I think what’s happened here is Gary Lineker 1 – BBC credibility 0.”
He added: “The reality is the BBC today has announced it will have a review of its social media guidelines. In fact, it needs a review of how it handles crisis like these.”
Tory MPs who had demanded an apology from Lineker are unhappy at the apparent climbdown by the BBC after the star’s initial suspension.
“This says more about the weakness of the director-general,” said Tory MP David Jones, adding that if Lineker was reinstated without “an enforceable undertaking not to engage in political tweeting again, he’ll have let all licence fee payers down”.
Tom Hunt, deputy chairman of the Common Sense Group of Tory MPs – who authored a letter demanding an apology from Lineker and the BBC – had urged the corporation “not to fold”.
The Tory MP said it was “important we accept that the highest paid employee of our tax payer funded state broadcaster accepts that they have responsibilities and duties when it comes to social media use”.
Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey said everyone would be “pleased” to see Lineker return – but said it was time for Mr Sunak to sack Mr Sharp. The appointement and sacking of a BBC chairman is ultimately a decision for the government.
‘Given his ties to Boris Johnson and the Conservative Party, and the scandal surrounding his appointment, the public simply cannot trust Richard Sharp to restore the BBC’s credibility,” said Sir Ed.
The Lib Dem leader added: “Rishi Sunak must sack him now and ensure a new, properly independent chair is in post to implement the review as soon as it is finished.”
No 10 declined to give its backing to under-fire Mr Sharp, who is currently subject to an investigation by the public appointments watchdog over the manner in which he got the job after the link to Mr Johnson emerged.
“We will await the outcome of that review and we will of course provide any assistance with that process, but it is for that review to look into that,” said the prime minister’s spokesman.
Roger Bolton, an ex-senior executive at the BBC, is among several former top corporation figures to call for Mr Sharp to resign since he could no longer “define impartiality”.
Mr Bolton, who hosts Roger Bolton’s Beeb Watch podcast, said: “The [social media] review is necessary but its independence depends on who conducts it.”
He added: “The report will be given to the BBC board to decide what further should be done. It is chaired by someone, Richard Sharp, who is not seen as impartial by many people and who has been missing in action over the last crucial days.”
Mr Sunak earlier declined to back Mr Sharp’s character or integrity when speaking to reporters on his trip to the US.
A No 10 spokesman also declined to say whether Mr Sunak has confidence in Mr Davie following the Lineker row, stressing that the choice of BBC director-general was a matter for the corporation.
Asked about the PM’s position on the licence fee, his spokesman said: “We remain committed to the licence fee for the rest of the current charter. But we’ve been clear that the BBC’s funding model faces major challenges due to changes in the way people consume media.”