To “prioritize the interests” of the broadcaster, Richard Sharp has resigned as chairman of the BBC.
Before the then-prime minister endorsed Boris Johnson for the position of head of the BBC, the former Goldman Sachs banker was accused of setting up a loan for him of up to £800,000.
In January 2021, he was declared the government’s choice for the chairman post.
According to the 25-page assessment by Adam Heppinstall KC on the selection of Mr. Sharp as BBC Chairman, he “failed to disclose potential perceived conflicts of interest.”
In response, Mr Sharp said he will remain in the role until the end of June while the search for a successor takes place.
He said: ‘Mr Heppinstall’s view is that while I did breach the governance code for public appointments, he states that a breach does not necessarily invalidate an appointment.
‘Indeed, I have always maintained the breach was inadvertent and not material, which the facts he lays out substantiate. The Secretary of State has consulted with the BBC Board who support that view.
‘Nevertheless, I have decided that it is right to prioritise the interests of the BBC.’
Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey said that the BBC was being ‘dragged through the mud’ by the Conservatives.
Responding to Mr Sharp’s resignation, he said: ‘The British people won’t stand for any more of this.
‘Everything Conservative politicians touch turns into a mess. They are not fit to govern our great country.
‘Boris Johnson should never have been allowed to appoint Richard Sharp in the first place and what’s worse is Rishi Sunak didn’t show leadership by sacking him.’
Meanwhile Tim Davie, director-general of the BBC, paid tribute to the outgoing chairman.
He said: ‘On behalf of the BBC Executive, I would like to thank Richard for his service to the BBC and the drive and intellect he brought to his time as chairman.
‘Working with him over the last two years has been rewarding and Richard has made a significant contribution to the transformation and success of the BBC.
‘The focus for all of us at the BBC is continuing the hard work to ensure we deliver for audiences, both now and in the future.’
Mr Sharp had made ‘significant errors of judgement’ and had not given the ‘full facts’ when applying for the BBC top job, a committee previously found.
In a grilling by MPs, Mr Sharp insisted his only role was as a ‘sort of introduction agency’ between his friend Sam Blyth – a Canadian businessman who is a distant cousin of Johnson – and the cabinet secretary Simon Case.
Labour had called for an investigation into Mr Sharp after allegations surfaced in The Sunday Times.
According to the newspaper, a dinner was held at Chequers before the loan was finalised.
At the time, a spokesperson for Mr Johnson dismissed the Sunday Times report as ‘rubbish’ and insisted his financial arrangements ‘have been properly declared’.
‘Richard Sharp has never given any financial advice to Boris Johnson. He did indeed have dinner with Mr Sharp, whom he has known for almost 20 years, and with his cousin. So what? Big deal.’
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said he has not seen the report into Richard Sharp, but was unable to guarantee a non-political figure would replace him.
Speaking to media at the Scottish Tory conference in Glasgow, Mr Sunak said: ‘There’s an appointments process that happens for those appointments. I’m not going to prejudge that.’
Gary Lineker also shared his views on Mr Sharp’s resignation.
The Match Of The Day host, 62, tweeted: ‘The BBC chairman should not be selected by the government of the day.
‘Not now, not ever.’
His comments come after he was taken off air by the broadcaster in March after posting a tweet which sparked an impartiality row prompting the BBC to launch an independent review of its social media guidance for freelancers.
He later returned to his Match Of The Day presenting role following a boycott by top on-air talent.
Earlier today, a Labour MP said Mr Sharp ‘will have to go’ if he found to have broken the code for public appointments by facilitating a loan for Mr Johnson.
Shadow transport secretary Louise Haigh told Sky News: ‘If it is revealed that he has failed to declare the details of this loan arrangement properly or failed to be forthcoming in the process, then of course he will have to go.
‘I think his whole saga raises wider issues around the way that the Government has approached the BBC and the particular links of the Tory party with the BBC.’
The full resignation speech from Richard Sharp
I would like to thank Adam Heppinstall and his team for the diligence and professionalism they have shown in compiling today’s report.
Mr Heppinstall’s view is that while I did breach the governance code for public appointments, he states that a breach does not necessarily invalidate an appointment.
Indeed, I have always maintained the breach was inadvertent and not material, which the facts he lays out substantiate. The Secretary of State has consulted with the BBC Board who support that view.
Nevertheless, I have decided that it is right to prioritise the interests of the BBC. I feel that this matter 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 therefore this morning resigned as BBC Chair to the Secretary of State, and to the Board.
It was proposed to me that I stay on as Chair until the end of June while the process to appoint my successor is undertaken, and I will of course do that in the interests of the Corporation’s stability and continuity.
Let me turn to the events that are the subject of today’s report.
When I sought in December 2020 to introduce the Cabinet Secretary to Mr (Sam) Blyth I did so in good faith. I did so with the best of intentions.
And I did so with the sole purpose of ensuring that all relevant rules were being followed.
I am pleased that Mr Heppinstall supports the fact that my involvement in these matters was accordingly “very limited”.
He states that he is “happy to record” that he has seen no evidence – and nor could he – to say I played any part whatsoever in the facilitation, arrangement, or financing of a loan for the former Prime Minister.
During my conversation with the Cabinet Secretary on December 4, 2020, I reminded him of the fact that I was in the BBC appointments process.
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. In my subsequent interview with the Appointments Panel I wish, with the benefit of hindsight, this potential perceived conflict of interest was something I had considered to mention.
I would like once again to apologise for that oversight – inadvertent though it was – and for the distraction these events have caused the BBC.
For more than twenty years I have devoted time and energy to public service, whether at the Institute for Cancer Research, at the Royal Academy of Arts, on the financial policy committee of the Bank of England, or as an economic advisor to the Treasury working to protect British business, including the creative industries, during the pandemic.
For more than two years I have seen the beating heart of the BBC up close. And for all its complexities, successes, and occasional failings, the BBC is an incredible, dynamic, and world beating creative force, unmatched anywhere.
As Chair I have acted at all times in the public interest, and for the betterment of the BBC. I am proud to have fought for the recent return of Government funding for the World Service. I have been active in commissioning independent thematic reviews of BBC coverage on touchstone issues.
And I have championed the importance of the BBC as a well-funded and impartial public service broadcaster.
To chair this incredible organisation has been an honour. The BBC’s contribution to our national life is immense, its people are hardworking and brilliant, and preserving and enhancing it matters.