Critics say Sharp has tarnished the reputation of the BBC, one of the world’s leading news organisations, and introduced a potential benefactor to Johnson before Johnson was appointed head of the BBC, a conflict of interest.
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Sharpe is a former Goldman Sachs banker and a major donor to the Conservative Party. He had previously refused to resign and denied any wrongdoing. He called the failure to declare his share of the debt negligent.
Sharpe has said that only Sam Blythe, a Canadian business executive and distant relative of Johnson’s, was in contact with Cabinet Secretary and senior civil servant Simon Case.
“With the benefit of background, I thought I’d address this potential conflict of interest,” Sharp said in a statement Friday. “I would like to apologize once again for that oversight – however careless – and for the distraction these events have caused the BBC.”
Sharp insisted that barrister Adam Heppinstall’s independent report into the matter found his role in the loan was “extremely minimal” and that there was “no evidence that he played any role in facilitating, arranging or financing the loan to the former prime minister”.
Sharp will remain BBC chairman until June, when his successor will be chosen.
Critics say significant damage has been done.
Michelle Stanistreet, general secretary of the National Association of Journalists, said that Sharp had “been clinging to his chair for months, while those around him could clearly see that his time was up. So it’s a relief and right that he has now finally resigned.”
Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey said the issue had dragged the BBC into the mud. “The British people will not stand for this anymore. Anything Conservative politicians touch will turn into chaos.
Davy said Johnson should never have been allowed to appoint Sharp and that his successor, Rishi Sunak, should have sacked Sharp months earlier.
Lucy Powell, leader of the opposition Labor Party, said: “This breach has caused untold damage to the BBC’s reputation and seriously undermined its independence as a result of Conservative malice and cronyism”.
Powell said Sunak should establish a truly independent and robust process to replace Sharpe to help restore the BBC’s reputation after his government had so tarnished it.