Why the Gary Lineker migrant row has reopened calls for BBC chairman Richard Sharp to resign

Gary Lineker and BBC chairman Richard Sharp
The fallout of Gary Lineker's remarks has brought a row over BBC chairman Richard Sharp's impartiality back into the spotlight. (Getty Images)

BBC chairman Richard Sharp is facing growing calls to resign as the broadcaster remains in a crisis over Gary Lineker's criticism of the government's migrant crackdown.

The sports presenter caused a storm after he compared home secretary Suella Braverman's plan to stop migrant boats from entering to the UK to Nazi Germany.

Lineker was told to step back from presenting Match of the Day over concerns his tweets breached the BBC's impartiality guidelines, but the ongoing row is bringing Sharp's own impartiality into question again.

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey said Lineker's suspension has "shown failure at the top" of the broadcaster, which "urgently" needs to protect its independence.

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Lineker looked unphased as he watched Leicester City v Chelsea on Saturday. (Reuters)

"We need leadership at the BBC that upholds our proud British values and can withstand today's consistently turbulent politics and Conservative bullying tactics," he said.

"Sadly, under Richard Sharp's leadership, this has not been the case. His appointment and position are now totally untenable and he must resign."

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The appointment of Sharp as BBC chairman was called into question in January following reports that he was involved in arranging a guarantor on a loan of up to £800,000 for Boris Johnson in late 2020.

Sharp, who was recommended for his role by Johnson, told The Sunday Times he had "simply connected" people and denied having any conflict of interest.

In February, a cross-party committee of MPs said Sharp made "significant errors of judgement" in acting as a go-between for the former prime minister and said he should consider how it has affected trust in the BBC.

Richard Sharp appearing before the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee following the Government's announcement that he is the preferred candidate for the post of BBC chairman. (Photo by House of Commons/PA Images via Getty Images)
Critics have said Sharp has been compromised by a probe into his role in securing an £800,000 loan for Boris Johnson ahead of his appointment. (Getty Images)

The former Goldman Sachs banker, who donated more than £400,000 to the Conservative Party between 2001 and 2019, refused to resign over the Boris Johnson scandal.

Nonetheless, the fallout over Lineker's remarks is drawing attention to Sharp's links with the Conservatives and prompting questions over whether he is right for the job.

BBC director general Tim Davie is also facing calls to step down, having apologised over the row while refusing to resign.

Read more: Gary Lineker will not ‘back down on his word’, according to his son

Reacting to news of Lineker's suspension, former BBC correspondent Jon Sopel tweeted: "Lucky there are no producer guidelines on whether you need to declare facilitating an £800k loan to a prime minister while applying for a job as chairman of a broadcasting organisation."

LGBT campaigner Peter Tatchell wrote: "Chief censors & Tory lapdogs at the @BBC, Richard Sharp & Tim Davie, must RESIGN!

"They are government poodles who have trashed freedom of expression by banning #GaryLineker #IStandWithGaryLineker."

Roger Bolton, a former senior executive at the BBC, also called for Sharp to quit, arguing he has been compromised by the investigation into his role in facilitating the £800,000 loan for Johnson.

He told GB News: "The very fact that he can’t speak out on the subject and defend the BBC and define impartiality, as the chairman of the BBC, means he can't do his job. So, I'm afraid he should go."

Read more: Children deliver letters to Lineker’s home as impartiality row rumbles on

Labour's shadow culture secretary Lucy Powell said Sharp was "totally unable" to handle the Lineker row because he had been compromised by the Johnson probe.

She told Times Radio: "His position is now increasingly untenable. I think he, at this stage, should be reflecting on whether he’s able to do that very important job."

Appearing on the BBC's Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg programme, Labour shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves suggested the broadcaster has "clearly come under immense pressure from the Conservative Party" to take Lineker off air.

She said Tory MPs have been talking about Lineker more than other things "that matter on a day-to-day basis for our constituencies" and said the BBC's reaction was "totally out of proportion".

Referring to the investigation into the cronyism row surrounding Sharp, she said: "He is still in his job. Gary Lineker isn't able to present the football commentary? I think there is a sense of proportionality here.

"The Tories obviously put a huge amount of pressure on the government to get rid of Gary Lineker, I don't remember those same Tory MPs crying about impartiality when those revelations about Richard Sharp came out."