Richard Sharp resigns: BBC chairman quits over Boris Johnson loan
What's happened? BBC chairman Richard Sharp has resigned a report found that he breached the governance code for public appointments after it emerged he played a role in facilitating a loan guarantee for then prime minister Boris Johnson.
Sharp said on Friday morning that he will stand down at the end of June after reading the findings of barrister Adam Heppinstall KC’s review into his appointment, which has just been published.
The report was ordered after it emerged he played a role in facilitating an £800,000 loan guarantee for Johnson shortly before he was recommended for the influential role overseeing the public broadcaster’s independence.
In a statement, Sharp said the breach had been "inadvertent and not material", but apologised for the events impacting the BBC in recent months and sad he regretted what had happened.
"Nevertheless, I have decided that it is right to prioritise the interests of the BBC," he added. "I feel that these matters may well be a distraction from the Corporation’s good work were I to remain in post until the end of my term.
"I have decided therefore to resign from my position as BBC Chair."
Sharp will remain in position until a replacement is found.
What's he accused of doing?
The former banking boss and Conservative Party donor is accused to breaching the BBC's code on public appointments when he didn't declare his involvement in helping to secure an £800,000 loan for Boris Johnson.
Sharp aided in putting Johnson's distant relative, millionaire Sam Blyth, in touch with cabinet secretary Simon Case so that Blyth could provide Johnson with the facility to get a loan. At the time of the arranged meeting in 2020, Sharp had already applied to serve as the BBC chairman.
Sharp said because his knowledge of the meeting was declared to Case, he did not believe he needed to further declare it to the appointment panel.
“I reminded him of the fact that I was in the BBC appointment process," Sharp said of his conversation with Case. “I believed, as a result of that conversation, that I had been removed from any conflict or perception of conflict.
“I understood this recusal to be absolute. This was my error.”
Sharp said following the release of the review's findings that he was pleased Heppinstall's report found his “involvement in these matters was accordingly ‘very limited’” and he says “no evidence” was found to suggest that Sharp “played any part whatsoever in the facilitation, arrangement, or financing of a loan for the former Prime Minister”.
Richard Sharp has friends everywhere – but ultimately left BBC on his own (The Guardian, 5-min read)
Who's angry - and why?
The Labour Party has been scathing of how the government has dealt with the allegations and subsequent review, with various members of the shadow cabinet stating outright that Sharp should resign if his actions were found to have breached the BBC's code.
Many who are angry about the situation believe it smacks of Tory sleaze, and that the prime minister should have sacked his former boss Sharp as soon as the allegations were made.
Shadow culture secretary Lucy Powell said the impartiality of the BBC had been "seriously undermined... as a result of the Conservatives’ sleaze and cronyism".
"This comes after 13 years of the Tories doing everything they can to defend themselves and their mates," she added.
"From Owen Patterson to Dominic Raab, and now Richard Sharp, instead of doing what’s best for the country the Prime Minister was more interested in defending his old banking boss. The Prime Minister should have sacked him weeks ago. Instead it took this investigation, called by Labour, to make him resign."
The Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey said Johnson "should never have been allowed to appoint Richard Sharp in the first place", adding that prime minister Rishi Sunak should have sacked him.
Voices: Richard Sharp’s real failing was getting himself into bad company with Boris Johnson (The Independent, 3-min read)
Why it matters
The BBC has faced questions over how it can maintain its impartiality and relationship with central government. Critics of both the BBC and the Conservative Party will see the review into Sharp as evidence that the broadcaster is struggling to maintain that distance.
Prior to the release of the review's findings, the BBC had faced questions over impartiality after presenter Gary Lineker tweeted about the migrant crisis, criticising the government's stance. After Lineker was suspended, questions were raised over whether the BBC had acted in the interests of Conservative MPs.
The backlash added further fuel to the impartiality debate, and the recent Sharp findings will do little to dispel the idea that the BBC is too close to the current government.
Opinion: Stop kicking the BBC on bias. A right turn was needed, but now it’s gone too far (The Guardian, 6-min read)
What happens next?
Sharp has offered his resignation over the matter, despite the report finding his involvement in the matter was limited. However, he will stay in his position until a replacement is found.
The prime minister said he had not spoken to Sharp, adding: “I haven't seen the report but I understand he tendered his resignation to the Secretary of State and she has accepted it.”
However Sunak diid not issue any guarantees that his replacement would be a non-political figure.
Mr Sunak said: “There's an appointments process that happens for those appointments. I'm not going to prejudge that,” he told reporters at the Scottish Tory conference in Glasgow.
Gary Lineker says BBC chairman should never be appointed by government after Richard Sharp quits (Evening Standard, 2-min read)