Richard Sharp resigns as BBC chair over connection to Boris Johnson loan

Investigation finds breach of rules on public appointments over link to £800,000 loan

BBC chair, Richard Sharp, has been forced to resign after an investigation found he breached public appointment rules by failing to declare a role in arranging an £800,000 loan for the then prime minister Boris Johnson.

The report by Adam Heppinstall KC, published on Friday, found there was a “potential perceived conflict of interest” that was not disclosed by Mr Sharp during his application and interview for the role at the UK broadcaster in 2020.

Mr Sharp had denied wrongdoing, arguing he neither facilitated nor arranged the financing to the then prime minister. He said he only put Sam Blyth, a Canadian businessman and distant cousin of Johnson, in touch with Simon Case, the cabinet secretary and the UK’s most senior civil servant. Mr Blyth provided a loan guarantee.

Mr Heppinstall said that Sharp informed Mr Johnson that he wanted to become chair of the BBC and then, before he was interviewed, that he was going to meet Mr Case “to introduce to him a person who had made a suggestion that he might assist the former prime minister with his personal finances”.


Mr Sharp, a former banker who was once the boss of prime minister, Rishi Sunak, at Goldman Sachs, said the investigation’s conclusions showed that the rules breach “was inadvertent and not material”.

He added, however: “I have decided that it is right to prioritise the interests of the BBC. 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.”

He is due to stay on in the role until June while a successor is chosen. The chair of the BBC is a political appointment.

On Friday, Mr Sharp insisted that he did not see any need to disclose his role in connecting Mr Blyth with Mr Johnson, given he had spoken to Mr Case, “with the sole purpose of ensuring that all relevant rules were being followed”.

Mr Sharp noted the report had found his involvement was “very limited”. He said “his error” was believing that the conversation with Mr Case “removed from any conflict or perception of conflict. I understood this recusal to be absolute”.

Mr Heppinstall said the non-disclosures caused a breach of the governance code and disagreed with Mr Sharp’s opinion that there was no conflict of interest.

The report also criticised “leaks and briefing to the press of ‘preferred candidates’” given this “may well have discouraged people from applying for this role”.

The BBC board said that it accepted and understood his decision to stand down. In a statement, the board added: “Richard has been a real advocate for the BBC, its mission and why the corporation is a priceless asset for the country, at home and abroad.”

Lucy Frazer, culture secretary, said she respected and understood Mr Sharp’s decision to step down and appreciated his commitment to the BBC, adding in a letter to the outgoing chair: “Your decision to step down in the wider interests of the corporation is further testament to that commitment.”

Lucy Powell, shadow culture secretary, said: “This breach has caused untold damage to the reputation of the BBC and seriously undermined its independence as a result of the Conservatives’ sleaze and cronyism.”

She added: “The prime minister should have sacked Richard Sharp weeks ago. Instead, it took this investigation, called by Labour, to make him resign.”

Allies of Mr Sunak said he was not immediately planning to comment on the resignation and denied that the episode was embarrassing for him.

Privately, however, some government insiders made it clear that it was inevitable Mr Sharp had to go.

“It was right for him to go,” said one. “Although he was a totally credible candidate and was doing a good job, you have got to be completely watertight and he should have raised it in the process.”

Others said the episode was a reminder of why Mr Johnson, who battled constant money worries, had been a corrosive figure at the heart of government.

“Yet again, Boris damages everything and everyone around him, I’m afraid,” said one Tory official. – The Financial Times