Richard Sharp resigns as BBC chairman after breaching appointment rules
Richard Sharp has resigned as BBC chairman after being found to have broken the rules by failing to disclose he played a role in getting Boris Johnson an £800,000 loan guarantee.
Adam Heppinstall KC’s review found the former Tory donor twice breached the code governing public appointments, risking the perception he was not independent from the then-prime minister.
Mr Sharp spared forcing Rishi Sunak to decide on his fate by announcing he will stand down from the influential role overseeing the public broadcaster’s independence at the end of June.
The barrister’s review published on Friday morning said Mr Sharp risked a perception that he was recommended for the role because he assisted Mr Johnson “in a private financial matter” ahead of his appointment in 2021.
Mr Heppinstall also said there was the risk it would be perceived that he influenced Mr Johnson to recommend him by notifying the former prime minister of his application before submitting it.
Failing to disclose both issues were found to have caused breaches of the governance code for public appointments.
In his resignation statement, Mr Sharp insisted that his breach of the rules was “inadvertent and not material”.
“Nevertheless, I have decided that it is right to prioritise the interests of the BBC,” the former Goldman Sachs banker added.
“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.”
The Prime Minister defended himself from suggestions he should have sacked Mr Sharp weeks ago, arguing it was right to follow the “proper process”.
Mr Sunak declined to commit to ensuring Mr Sharp’s replacement is not a political appointment, telling broadcasters on a visit to Scotland he will follow the “established” procedure.
The review was ordered after it emerged he introduced his friend Sam Blyth, a distant cousin of Mr Johnson who wanted to help him with his financial troubles, to Cabinet Secretary Simon Case ahead of being recommended for the role by the Government.
The BBC Board said: “We accept and understand Richard’s decision to stand down.”
BBC director-general Tim Davie thanked Mr Sharp 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,” Mr Davie said.
“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’s shadow culture secretary Lucy Powell said Mr Sharp had “caused untold damage to the reputation of the BBC and seriously undermined its independence as a result of the Conservatives’ sleaze and cronyism”.
“The Prime Minister should have sacked him weeks ago. Instead it took this investigation, called by Labour, to make him resign,” she added.
In a letter to Mr Sharp, Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer said that he his “held in high regard” by the BBC board but added that “I understand and respect your decision to stand down”.
“You have clearly demonstrated your commitment to public service and I especially applaud the work you did during the pandemic,” she said.
“Your decision to step down in the wider interests of the corporation is further testament to that commitment.
“Thank you, once again, for your service and I wish you well for the future. I am sure there will be further opportunities for you to make a significant contribution to public life.”
She accepted the decision that he should remain in post until the next board meeting on June 27 when a temporary replacement will be appointed.
Mr Heppinstall’s report considered how Mr Sharp had told Mr Johnson that he wished to apply for the role ahead of his application in November 2020.
And it considered how he met Cabinet Secretary Simon Case the following month regarding the introduction to Mr Blyth over the then prime minister’s financial affairs.
Mr Sharp “failed to disclose potential perceived conflicts of interest to the panel which interviewed candidates and advised Ministers”, the barrister ruled.
He formally took up the four-year appointment, ultimately approved by Mr Johnson, in February 2021.
The outgoing chairman insisted he made the introduction “with the best of intentions” to ensure all rules were being followed.
He said he believed by reminding Mr Case he was in the running for the job that he had removed any perceived conflict of interest.
“I understood this recusal to be absolute. This was my error,” Mr Sharp said.
“I would like once again to apologise for that oversight – inadvertent though it was – and for the distraction these events have caused the BBC.”
Mr Sharp, then acting as an adviser to the Treasury during the pandemic, sought to argue to Mr Heppinstall that he was duty bound to tell Mr Johnson he was applying for the job.
He said Mr Johnson was akin to being his “boss” and it was right to give the then PM the opportunity to “persuade him to stay in” the role.
Mr Heppinstall said it would have been “appropriate” for Mr Sharp to tell the interview panel of the conversation.
“He was Mr Sharp’s current ‘boss’ but he was also the person who would make the final decision on the recommendation for appointment and also a person from whom Mr Sharp would have to maintain independence if so appointed,” the barrister wrote.