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Rishi Sunak Won't Confirm If Next BBC Chair Will Be A Non-Political Appointment

Rishi Sunak refused to say whether Richard Sharp's replacement would be non-political. (Alamy)

3 min read

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has refused to say whether the next BBC chair will be an apolitical appointment following Richard Sharp's resignation.

Sharp resigned as BBC chair on Friday after an investigation found he breached the code on public appointments by helping Boris Johnson secure a £800,000 loan just weeks before being appointed as BBC chairman in January 2021.  

The arrangement was originally reported in The Sunday Times in January, with the paper also revealing cabinet secretary Simon Case warned then-prime minister Johnson against the move.

Sharp, who has made substantial donations to the Tory party, at the time denied he and Johnson discussed finances – but admitted he had met with Johnson about applying for the role as BBC chairman.

Speaking to reporters outside the Scottish Conservative party conference on Friday afternoon, Sunak was unable to guarantee that Sharp's replacement would be a non-political appointment following the fallout from the Sharp affair. BBC chairs are usually appointed on the advice of the government. 

"I'm focused on talking to people here in Scotland about what we're doing to deliver for them," Sunak said.

In a televised press conference announcing his resignation on Friday morning, Sharp said his presence at the BBC had become a "distraction" to the broadcaster's work. 

"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," Sharp said.

"I have therefore this morning resigned as BBC Chair to the Secretary of State, and to the Board.

"It was proposed to me that I stay on as chair until the end of June while the process to appoint my successor is untertaken and I will of course do that in the interests of the Corporation's stability and continuity."

In January Johnson claimed it was "complete nonsense" that Sharp knew anything about his finances when reports of Sharp's assistance in securing him a £800,000 loan emerged. 

"This is a load of complete nonsense, absolute nonsense," Johnson told reporters. 

"Let me just tell you: Richard Sharp is a good and a wise man. But he knows absolutely nothing about my personal finances – I can tell you that for 100 per cent ding-dang sure.

"This is just another example of the BBC disappearing up its own fundament."

Lucy Powell MP, Labour’s shadow culture secretary, said the situation had done "untold damage to the reputation of the BBC" and was due to Conservative "sleaze and cronyism". 

Rishi Sunak should urgently establish a truly independent and robust process to replace Sharp to help restore the esteem of the BBC after his government has tarnished it so much," she said.

Gary Lineker, former England footballer and host of the BBC's flagship football programme Match of the Day, said the next BBC chair should not be appointed by the government following Sharp's resignation.  

"The BBC chairman should not be selected by the government," Lineker tweeted. 

"Not now, not ever."

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