BBC chairman Richard Sharp resigns after breaching code for public appointments

28 April 2023, 10:02 | Updated: 28 April 2023, 10:54

Richard Sharp helped secure a loan guarantee for then-PM Boris Johnson
Richard Sharp helped secure a loan guarantee for then-PM Boris Johnson. Picture: Alamy

By Asher McShane

Richard Sharp has resigned as chairman of the BBC after he was found to have breached the code for public appointments.

Mr Sharp said the report into his appointment found that he did not properly disclose a conversation related to his involvement in facilitating an £800,000 loan guarantee to then-Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

The report found that this could create the "risk of a perception that Sharp would not be independent from the former prime minister, if appointed".

Mr Sharp, who is also a Conservative donor, apologised for not mentioning the "potential perceived conflict of interest" and for being a "distraction" to the corporation.

The two potential conflicts found by the report, authored by Adam Heppinstall KC, were:

  • Mr Sharp telling Mr Johnson that he wanted to apply to be BBC chair before he made his application in November 2020
  • Mr Sharp telling the PM that he was going to introduce civil service chief Simon Case to his friend Sam Blyth so that he could "assist the former prime minister with his personal finances"
BBC Chairman Richard Sharp
Former BBC Chairman Richard Sharp. Picture: DCMS Committee

Mr Sharp said in a statement: "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."

The BBC board accepted Mr Sharp's resignation but members maintained he was "a person of integrity".

They said in a statement: "We accept and understand Richard’s decision to stand down. We want to put on record our thanks to Richard, who has been a valued and respected colleague, and a very effective chairman of the BBC.

"The BBC board believes that Richard Sharp is a person of integrity."

BBC director-general Tim Davie praised Mr Sharp, saying: "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."

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"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."

Labour said the report showed the BBC's independence had been "seriously undermined" by the Conservatives.

Shadow culture secretary Lucy Powell said: "This comes after 13 years of the Tories doing everything they can to defend themselves and their mates.

"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.

"Rishi Sunak should urgently establish a truly independent and robust process to replace Sharp to help restore the esteem of the BBC after his government has tarnished it so much."

The issues stem from a meeting in December 2020, when Mr Sharp discussed with Cabinet secretary Simon Case the possibility of his friend Sam Blyth helping Mr Johnson with his financial troubles.

He said he met Mr Case on 4 December 2020 "so that the Cabinet Secretary could ensure that any assistance given to the former Prime Minister by this third party complied with any applicable rules and so that he would have no further involvement with the matter," the report found.

He told Mr Case about his application for the BBC job, which was then underway, and thought that put him in the clear for any conflict of interest.

Richard Sharp was appointed as BBC Chairman when Boris Johnson was prime minister
Richard Sharp was appointed as BBC Chairman when Boris Johnson was prime minister. Picture: Getty

No.10 had already named Mr Sharp as their preferred candidate in November 2020, and said again that he "looked like a strong candidate" in December.

Mr Sharp was interviewed along with several other candidates, and the Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee backed his appointment in January. The committee was not told about his involvement with the loan guarantee.

Mr Sharp said that he attempted to make the introduction of Mr Blyth to Mr Case "in good faith" and "with the best of intentions".

Mr Heppinstall said in his report that he had been told that "the introduction to the Cabinet Secretary never happened, in the sense that the Cabinet Secretary never met nor was in contact with the person".

James O'Brien runs through what we know about loan scandal involving Boris Johnson and Richard Sharp

Read more: Andrew Marr says ‘it would be much better for the BBC if Richard Sharp stepped aside’

Read more: Boris accuses BBC of 'disappearing up its own fundament' over claims chief helped ex-PM secure £800,000 loan

Mr Johnson previously dismissed claims that Mr Sharp helped him secure an £800,000 loan as "absolute nonsense" and accused the broadcasting corporation of "disappearing up its own fundament".

Speaking in January, Mr Johnson said: "This is a load of complete nonsense - absolute nonsense.

"Let me just tell you, Richard Sharp is a great and wise man but he knows absolutely nothing about my personal finances - I can tell you that for 100% ding dang sure. This is just another example of the BBC disappearing up its own fundament."