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BBC chair Sharp quits after Johnson loan row

Richard Sharp has been forced to resign as BBC chair after an investigation found that he breached the rules after failing to declare a role in the loan guarantee made to Boris Johnson before his appointment.

Sharp has been under increasing pressure after an investigation was launched by Adam Heppinstall KC into whether he had broken the code for public appointments over a potential conflict of interest.

The former Goldman Sachs banker said in a statement on Friday that the conclusions of the investigation supported his view that the breach “was inadvertent and not material” but he added: “I have decided that it is right to prioritise the interests of the BBC.”

He added: “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. I have therefore this morning tendered my resignation as BBC chair to the secretary of state, and to the board.”

Sharp will stay as chair until June while the process to appoint his successor is undertaken.

He was involved in a deal to arrange a guarantee agreement on a loan of up to £800,000 for former prime minister Johnson prior to his appointment in 2021. He has denied wrongdoing and, up until Friday, had refused to quit, arguing that he neither facilitated nor arranged financing for Johnson.

Instead, he argued that he simply put Sam Blyth, a Canadian businessman and distant cousin of Johnson who provided the guarantee, in touch with Simon Case, the cabinet secretary and the UK’s most senior civil servant.

Candidates for the BBC chair are required to declare any interests that “could lead to a real or perceived conflict of interest”, but allies of Sharp insist that he was appointed on merit, and that he did not see any need to tell the BBC appointment panel given his conversation with Case.

However, they also acknowledge that Sharp knows that the investigation has created unhelpful controversy at an important moment for the British broadcaster as it seeks to secure its long-term funding in a digital media market as well as safeguard its obligation for impartiality.

In recent days, board members have expressed concern over his position after being briefed on the findings of the report, making his position increasingly difficult.

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