Pressure mounts for BBC chair Richard Sharp to quit following Gary Lineker row

Richard Sharp is a former Tory donor with close ties to Rishi Sunak and Boris Johnson. Credit: PA

Lewis Denison, ITV News Westminster Producer

Pressure is mounting for BBC chairman Richard Sharp to resign following the Gary Lineker debacle, for which the firm has now apologised.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the BBC boss's position is "increasingly untenable", given his very close links to the Tories, after Lineker was taken off air for expressing political views on social media.

And Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has refused to give his backing to the underfire boss, saying a previously announced probe into his appointment should conclude before commenting.

Many say the move to suspend the presenter has exposed hypocrisy at the broadcaster over its impartiality rules, with the BBC being accused of having double standards over its employees on the left and right of politics.

Lineker was forced away from hosting Match of the Day (MOTD) for comparing government rhetoric on illegal immigration with that used by Nazi Germany - but Mr Sharp has remained in position despite allegations that he helped Boris Johnson get an £800,000 loan before being appointed.

The position of the Tory donor - who was an adviser to Mr Johnson while he was London mayor and Mr Sunak as chancellor - is being investigated both by the commissioner for public appointments and the BBC over potential conflicts of interest.

The Labour leader said: “I think Richard Sharp’s position is increasingly untenable.

“I think most people watching the complete mess of the last few days would say how on earth is he still in position and Gary Lineker has been taken off air?

“This is a mess of the BBC’s own making, they need to sort it out and sort it out fast.”

The BBC released a statement shortly after, confirming Lineker's return to MOTD next week and apologising for taking him off air - a move which resulted in swathes of coverage being scrapped after other BBC presenters walked out in protest.

BBC Director-General Tim Davie said the broadcaster will begin an independent review of its social media guidelines, focusing on how it applies to freelancers outside news like Lineker.

“Everyone recognises this has been a difficult period for staff, contributors, presenters and, most importantly, our audiences. I apologise for this," he said.

“The potential confusion caused by the grey areas of the BBC’s social media guidance that was introduced in 2020 is recognised. I want to get matters resolved and our sport content back on air.”

Mr Sunak told ITV News he was "glad" the issue had been resolved and said it was now time to "move on".

It all began with Lineker's response to a Home Office Twitter video of Suella Braverman talking about how her new Illegal Immigration Bill will 'stop the boats'.

The legislation will essentially force detention on virtually everyone who enters the UK illegally and make it impossible for most to claim asylum.

In the video, Ms Braverman said "enough is enough. We must stop the boats" when referring to migrants crossing the English Channel, adding that the UK was being "overwhelmed" by asylum seekers.

Sharing the video, Lineker wrote on Twitter: "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."

The comparison with Nazi Germany sparked outrage among some Tory MPs and many said it was the pressure they piled on the BBC for it to take action that resulted in Lineker's suspension three days later.

Lineker said on Monday that he is glad that a resolution had been found, adding that he looks forward to getting "back on air".

He said the outpouring of support from the public towards the plight of those fleeing persecution was "heart-warming" to see.

Number 10 said it was "pleased" the situation had been resolved but declined to comment on how the BBC had handled the furore.

“As we’ve said before, it’s the BBC has a responsibility to maintain impartiality, and we welcome any step to ensure that that responsibility is reflected in their social media guidelines.”

But attention is now turning to Mr Sharp over his ties to the government.

The Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, which grilled Mr Sharp in his role over Mr Johnson's loan, accused him of “significant errors of judgment”.

Mr Sharp insisted he did not arrange the loan but admitted introducing his friend Sam Blyth, a cousin of Mr Johnson who wanted to help the then-prime minister with his financial troubles, to the Cabinet Office before providing the loan.

The cross-party committee was furious that Mr Sharp failed to declare to MPs his role in facilitating the loan when he was applying for the job of BBC chairman and said he should “consider the impact his omissions will have” on trust in the broadcaster.

They said his actions “constitute a breach of the standards expected of individuals” applying for prominent public appointments.

Prime Minister Sunak declined to back Mr Sharp’s character or integrity when asked by reporters on Monday.

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The pair have known each other since Mr Sharp was Mr Sunak’s mentor at Goldman Sachs.

Asked if he is a man of integrity, Mr Sunak said: “Richard Sharp was appointed by a government before my time, before I was prime minister.

“That process is being reviewed again by someone who has been appointed independently. It’s right that process finishes its course. It wouldn’t be right for me to speculate before then.”

Asked if he could endorse Mr Sharp’s character, the prime minister said: “I’ve known him obviously for a long time. But with regards to his appointment, it’s right that that’s done independently and rigorously. That process happened before I was Prime Minister, had nothing to do with me and at the time was conducted in all the way that it should have been.

“Now that process is being reviewed, the independent commissioner has appointed a leading barrister to review that process, it’s right that we let that continue.”