‘It had nothing to do with me’: PM distances himself from embattled BBC chairman

Rishi Sunak has declined to give his backing to the chairman of the BBC, stressing that his appointment was made by his predecessor Boris Johnson.

Richard Sharp is facing growing calls to resign amid the Gary Lineker impartiality row which has sparked an unprecedented crisis at the corporation. The decision to remove Gary Lineker from fronting Match of the Day, which he has hosted for almost a quarter of a century, has placed Mr Sharp’s close ties to government under scrutiny.

Mr Sharp became embroiled in a cronyism row earlier this year over his role in securing an £800,000 loan facility for former prime minister Boris Johnson.

Mr Sharp failed to declare his role in any loan received by Mr Johnson prior to his appointment as BBC chairman. The circumstances of his appointment are NOW being reviewed by the independent appointments commissioner.

The position is appointed by the government and the BBC has made it clear it is for ministers to remove the officeholder.

When the prime minister was asked today whether Mr Sharp is a man of integrity, Mr Sunak told Sky News: “With regard to his appointment it’s right that that is done independently and rigorously. That process happened before I was prime minister – [it]  had nothing to do with me, and at the time it was conducted the way that it should’ve been”.

He added: “The independent appointments commissioner has appointed a leading barrister I believe to review that process, it’s right that we let that continue”.

Roger Bolton, a former senior executive at the BBC, was among those to join calls from opposition parties and senior media figures for Mr Sharp to quit. He told GB News last night: “The very fact that he can’t speak out on the subject and defend the BBC and define impartiality, as the chairman of the BBC, means he can’t do his job. So, I’m afraid he should go.”

Meanwhile, walks between the BBC and Gary Lineker are said to be “moving in the right direction”, with both parties close to a deal to resolve the impartiality row.

There is now “growing confidence” that the former England player will return to present Match of the Day.

Lineker did not appear on the programme on Saturday after he was told to stand down from the role when he compared language used to launch a new Government asylum seeker policy with 1930s Germany in a tweet.

Following the announcement of the government’s illegal migration bill, Mr Lineker tweeted: “There is no huge influx. We take far fewer refugees than other major European countries. This is just an immeasurably cruel policy directed at the most vulnerable people in language that is not dissimilar to that used by Germany in the 30s, and I’m out of order?”.

The corporation is expected to announce it is reviewing its social media guidelines.

The Women’s Super League Chelsea v Manchester United game on BBC Two yesterday kicked off with no pre-match presentation and no pundits tonight, amid a broader boycott from BBC Sport presenters. 

Football coverage on both BBC TV and radio shows was hit across the weekend as pundits walked out in “solidarity”.

London Mayor has joined those saying it was “right and proper” for Gary Lineker to criticise the government’s small boats plan.

Sadiq Khan said: “It’s right and proper that Gary Lineker should be able to speak freely about his views on the government’s policies, particularly when their policies are unworkable and immoral”.

Shadow work and pensions secretary Jonathan Ashworth is the latest to criticise the BBC’s response to Gary Lineker’s criticism of the government’s new immigration bill.

Speaking to Sky News this morning, Mr Ashworth said “it’s a real, real mess”.

He said he didn’t agree with the way Mr Lineker made his comments, but accused the BBC of caving into “pressure” from “loudmouth” Conservative MPs.

“It’s meant that football fans didn’t get the football coverage that they rightly expect and deserve this weekend, and it’s now understandably reignited serious questions about the impartiality of the chair of the BBC”, Mr Ashworth added.