The Chairman of the Board of Governors of the BBC Corporation has resigned after an independent investigation found that he did not mention a potential conflict of interest during interviews for his position and, in doing so, violated the code of public appointments. He will finally leave the post in June.
In January, British newspapers revealed that Sharp had helped Boris Johnson, who was then Prime Minister of Great Britain, to provide guarantees for a loan of 800 thousand pounds sterling. A few weeks later, Prime Minister Johnson recommended Sharp for a position with the British Broadcasting Corporation.
Author investigation reportlawyer Adam Heppinstall, confirmed that in the process of appointing him to the post at the BBC, Sharp did not properly disclose his connections with the former prime minister.
In recent months, Sharp’s critics have been actively calling for his resignation, outraged that his situation is a prime example of the “you to me, I to you” principle, which, in their opinion, flourishes among the British political elite.
Sharp himself, announcing his resignation, said that the violation of the rules was “unintentional and insignificant”, but he decided to leave his post in the interests of the BBC, so as not to fuel doubts about its independence.
The investigation found that Johnson personally endorsed Sharpe’s candidacy for the post, and other candidates who applied for the position through open competition were advised that only Sharpe would be supported by the government.
According to the current procedure, the person who will become chairman of the board of governors of the BBC is appointed by the Minister of Culture in agreement with the Prime Minister following an open competition.
How Sharp explained the decision to resign
The report was published on Friday morning, and Sharpe, by the existing rules, had the opportunity to familiarize himself with it the day before.
Although a breach of conflict of interest rules is not necessarily grounds for dismissal, Sharpe himself decided that if he stayed, it would damage the BBC’s reputation and tarnish its independence.
Emphasizing this in his resignation letter, Sharp added: “If I remain in office until the end of my term, it will certainly become a distraction from the good work of the corporation.”
In January, responding to criticism, Richard Sharp explained that in the situation that arose, in his opinion, there was no conflict of interest: by offering a guarantor for a loan to Johnson, he, according to him, simply helped some people find others, while not yet holding a position in the corporation .
BBC CEO Tim Davey, on behalf of the company’s management, thanked Sharpe for his service to the corporation, noting such qualities as energy and intelligence in him. “The past two years have been very rewarding to work with him and Richard has made a significant contribution to the transformation and success of the BBC,” Davey added.
At the same time, as BBC correspondent David Sillito notes, on the eve of Davey he came to the chairman’s house. What exactly happened between them is unknown, but until then Sharpe was not going to resign, and the next morning he changed his mind.
How did the scandal unfold?
The links between Richard Sharpe and Boris Johnson became public in January, when the Sunday Times reported that Sharpe offered to set up a meeting between Cabinet Secretary Simon Case and Canadian billionaire Sam Blythe.
Subsequently, when questioned by MPs in February, Sharp admitted that Blythe, a distant relative of Johnson, had been visiting him for a private dinner in 2020 and told him during the event that he had heard about “some difficulties” with the prime minister and offered him his financial assistance.
Sharpe said he warned Blythe about the ethical difficulties involved in facilitating such a deal. At that time, Sharp had already submitted his application for a position at the BBC.
Sharp previously held senior positions at Goldman Sachs, an investment bank where he was the boss of current Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, and in the past was involved in funding the Conservative Party, which has ruled the UK for the past 13 years.
For the past two months, Sharpe’s supporters have defended him, emphasizing that in his post, Sharpe fought for the fate of the BBC in difficult times when corporate financing turned out to be in question. But critics insisted that in his case the principle of transparency of appointments was compromised.
“Consciously or not, he provided a personal service. He did not declare it during the evaluation process. It is a matter of transparency and fidelity to principles. Therefore, he had to leave,” Richard Eyre, a former member of the board of governors, explained in a BBC comment corporation and the British media regulator Ofcom.
What will happen next
Sharp plans to step down in June after the Sunak government holds a new competition to select a replacement.
Sharpe’s critics, who called for his ouster in the wake of the loan scandal, say the process for appointing the BBC’s chairman of the board of governors needs to change.
“Rishi Sunak must immediately establish a truly independent and clear procedure to replace Sharpe in order to help restore the BBC’s position, which this government has so badly tarnished,” Lucy Powell, the opposition Labor party’s shadow culture minister, said in a statement.
Famed sports anchor and former footballer Gary Lineker agreed, tweeting: “The BBC chairman should not be appointed by the government in power. Not now, not ever.”
Lineker himself played an important role in how the Sharpe scandal developed. In March, the BBC suspended a football pundit from hosting the hit TV show Match of the Day after he tweeted critical of the government’s immigration policy. BBC condemned presenter for violating the principle of impartiality.
Lineker was supported by many celebrities and viewers who considered the suspension unfair. Many of them pointed to the situation with Sharpe, who was not suspended despite questions about his ties to the political elite.