BBC Chairman Richard Sharp Resigns Over Boris Johnson Loan Scandal

An investigation found the executive breached appointment rules after failing to disclose his role in an £800,000 loan to the former prime minister

BBC Chairman Richard Sharp

BBC chairman Richard Sharp resigned on Friday following an investigation by Barrister Adam Heppinstall KC which found that he breached appointment rules by failing to declare his role in facilitating a £800,000 ($1 million) loan guarantee to then-prime minister Boris Johnson.

Sharp noted that he will stay on as chair until the end of June while a search for a successor is underway in the “interests of the corporation’s stability and continuity.”

“Mr. Heppinstall’s view is that while I did breach the governance code for public appointments, he states very clearly that a breach does not necessarily invalidate an appointment,” Sharp said in a statement. “Indeed, I have always maintained the breach was inadvertent and not material, which the facts he lays out substantiate. The secretary of state has consulted with the BBC Board who support that view. Nevertheless, 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.”

The breach was first uncovered by the Sunday Times, which reported that Sharp helped facilitate the loan guarantee to Johnson via Johnson’s distant cousin Sam Blyth in the weeks before becoming BBC Chair. The BBC chair is appointed by the U.K. government.

“When I sought in December 2020 to introduce the cabinet secretary to Mr. Blyth I did so in good faith. I did so with the best of intentions. And I did so with the sole purpose of ensuring that all relevant rules were being followed,” Sharp’s statement continued. “I am pleased that Mr Heppinstall supports the fact that my involvement in these matters, as he states, was accordingly “very limited”. After extensive work, he states – his words – that he is “happy to record” that he has seen no evidence – and nor could he – to say I played any part whatsoever in facilitation, arrangement, or financing of a loan for the former prime minister.”

Sharp reported Blyth’s introduction to Johnson to Cabinet Secretary Simon Case in December 2020.

“I believed, as a result of that conversation, that I had been removed from any conflict or perception of conflict. I understood this recusal to be absolute. This was my error,” he added. “In my subsequent interview with the appointments panel, 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.”

In a statement, BBC’s board said that they “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 board added. “The BBC Board believes that Richard Sharp is a person of integrity. 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. He has always had the impartiality of the BBC and a desire to see the organisation thrive at the forefront of his work as Chairman.”

BBC Director-General Tim Davie emphasized that Sharp “made a significant contribution to the transformation and success of the BBC” and that the focus moving forward is “continuing the hard work to ensure we deliver for audiences, both now and in the future.”

“Being the Chairman of the BBC has been an enormous privilege. It is an incredible organisation which has never mattered more than it does today, at home in the UK and around the world,” Sharp said. “I am very proud to have worked with the uniquely talented teams across the BBC. They are the best at what they do and I shall always be their champion.”