BBC’s Sharp quits after Boris Johnson breaks debt rules

  • The report found serious violations of the rules
  • Sharp to remain in chair until June
  • Inquiry into loan links to former prime minister
  • The Prime Minister supports the ‘Structured Appointments Process’

LONDON, April 28 (Reuters) – BBC chief Richard Sharp resigned on Friday after an independent report found he broke rules by not disclosing a conflict of interest in his role in securing a $1 million loan to then-prime minister Boris Johnson.

His departure comes amid a row of cronyism at a time when the publicly funded British broadcaster’s impartiality is being politically scrutinized. A spat with high-profile anchor Gary Lineker over tweets critical of government policy dominated national headlines last month.

Sharpe, a former Goldman Sachs banker and donor to the ruling Conservative Party, was appointed leader in 2021.

But he has been under pressure since February, when a group of lawmakers said he made “significant errors in judgment” in failing to declare his involvement in the debt.

Sharp has agreed to stay on until the end of June while the government searches for a replacement.

While the government appoints the head of the BBC, the broadcaster’s independence from government enables it to remain a central presence in British cultural life. It is funded by license fees paid by TV viewing households.

Lucy Powell, the culture spokeswoman for the opposition Labor Party, said the Conservative government’s “vulgarism and cronyism” had damaged the BBC’s reputation and that a “genuinely independent and robust process” was needed to appoint Sharp’s successor.

Asked by reporters if that replacement should be a non-political appointment, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who worked with Sharp at Goldman Sachs, said: “There is an established appointments process for all of this, and it’s when it’s right. The time is right.”

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Questions about the BBC’s neutrality are among the challenges it faces as it tries to stay relevant to younger audiences who don’t watch live TV, while fighting threats to its funding from some lawmakers.

Public Appointments Inquiry

An inquiry launched by the Inspector General of Public Appointments probed the manner in which Sharpe was selected by the government to head the corporation.

In particular, it looked at whether Sharp fully disclosed details of his role in providing Johnson with an £800,000 ($1 million) loan before being appointed chairman.

The report found that even if he violated the government’s code of public appointments, that violation would not invalidate his appointment. Sharp said he believed the violation was “careless and not material.”

But he added that staying until the end of his four-year term would distract from the broadcaster’s “good work”.

“I have decided that it is right to put the interests of the BBC first,” Sharp said in a statement. “So, I resigned as chairman of the BBC this morning.”

The report notes that Johnson’s Downing Street office recommended Sharp as “a strong candidate”, attracting 23 applications.

Sharp said he was not involved in making the loan or providing guarantees or financing, and that he did nothing more than introduce Canadian businessman Sam Blythe to a government official in late 2020.

Andrew Heppinstall, who conducted the inquest, said he was “pleased to record” that there was no evidence that Sharpe had any involvement in Johnson’s personal financial affairs.

($1 = 0.8026 pounds)

Reporting by Sarah Young, Editing by Paul Sandle

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