Match of the Day host wades into yet another political row

Match of the Day host Gary Lineker should be silenced once and for all after offering a political opinion on the resignation of the broadcaster’s chairman, Tory MPs have said.

Lineker waded in yesterday following the resignation of BBC chairman Richard Sharp saying: “The BBC chairman should not be selected by the government of the day. Not now, not ever.”

A senior source at the corporation told the Daily Express the pundit’s online outbursts are likely to be brought to a halt by a review into the corporation’s social media guidelines.

The source said: “We have an independent review which will sort this out in the long run.”

But that will not be soon enough for many with Tory Deputy Chairman Lee Anderson leading a chorus of condemnation yesterday.

Mr Anderson, the MP for Ashfield, said: “Clearly Gary didn’t get the message – no one wants to hear his political pontifications.

It’s one rule for his mates and another for everyone else

“He says the Government shouldn’t pick the BBC chairman, but his crony Alastair Campbell did exactly the same thing 22 years ago. It’s one rule for his mates and another for everyone else.”

“Lineker should get his facts right and stick to selling junk food.”

Andrea Jenkyns, the Tory MP for Morley and Outwood, called for the presenter to be fired.

She said: “He should butt out. It’s about time he’s sacked and we defund the BBC.”

Former Tory donor Richard Sharp, 67, was found to have broken the rules by failing to disclose he played a role in getting then-Prime Minister Boris Johnson an £800,000 loan guarantee.

In line with the BBC Charter, which is enshrined in law, Lucy Frazer, the Culture Secretary, will make a recommendation on who should succeed him as the BBC chairman after receiving advice from a panel. Rishi Sunak then has the final say.

However, Lineker – the corporation’s highest-paid presenter on £1.35 million a year – argued that a different approach was needed.

In 2001, there was controversy when Gavyn Davies, below, a multi-millionaire Labour supporter, was named as the BBC chairman by Tony Blair. It led to accusations from Tories that the then prime minister was mounting a “final takeover” of the BBC, having already named Greg Dyke, a former Labour donor, as director general.

A Conservative Party source said: “I find Gary Lineker’s comments interesting. He must have lost his voice when Labour stuffed the BBC with Labour cronies.”

BBC chairman Richard Sharp has resigned from the role following a report by barrister Adam Heppinstall KC.

Here are some of the key events leading up to the publication of the report.

September 2020: Richard Sharp, a former Goldman Sachs banker advising the Government on the economic response to the coronavirus pandemic, is contacted by old friend Sam Blyth, a distant cousin of Prime minister Boris Johnson. Mr Blyth says he wants to help Mr Johnson with his financial difficulties.

October 2020: The recruitment process opens for the next chairman of the BBC.

November 2020: Mr Sharp submits his application for the BBC job. He has already discussed it with Mr Johnson.

Late November 2020: Mr Blyth gets back in touch with Mr Sharp, asking him to arrange a meeting with Cabinet Secretary Simon Case, Whitehall’s top civil servant.

December 2020: Mr Sharp meets Mr Case to discuss Mr Blyth’s request for a meeting and the offer of help for Mr Johnson. They agreed that Mr Sharp should have no further involvement in the matter.

January 6, 2021: Mr Sharp is named as the Government’s preferred candidate for the BBC chairman role.

January 14, 2021: The Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee holds a pre-appointment hearing with Mr Sharp. They are not informed about his role in helping facilitate the £800,000 loan guarantee for Mr Johnson from Mr Blyth.

January 15, 2021: The committee concludes it is content to confirm Mr Sharp’s appointment.

February 16, 2021: Mr Sharp formally takes up the role of BBC chairman, an appointment lasting four years.

January 21, 2023: The Sunday Times reports Mr Sharp’s involvement in facilitating the loan guarantee.

January 23, 2023: Mr Sharp writes to BBC staff telling them he is “really sorry” the matter had become a distraction for the broadcaster and says the nominations committee of the BBC board will examine whether there have been any conflicts of interest since he started his role.

January 23, 2023: Commissioner for Public Appointments William Shawcross said he would review the competition which led to Mr Sharp getting the BBC job. He subsequently recuses himself, because he has met Mr Sharp a number of times, with Adam Heppinstall KC appointed to lead the investigation.

February 7, 2023: Mr Sharp appears before the Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee to defend his actions, insisting he “acted in good faith to ensure that the rules were followed”.

February 12, 2023: The committee publishes a report stating that Mr Sharp made “significant errors of judgment”.

March 12, 2023: Mr Sharp faces fresh scrutiny as the BBC’s policy on impartiality is challenged by Gary Lineker, who was briefly stood down from presenting Match Of The Day over tweets criticising the Government.

March 18, 2023: Media reports allege Mr Sharp helped a close friend, public relations executive Caroline Daniel, get a paid role advising the corporation about its editorial standards.

April 28, 2023: Mr Sharp resigns as chairman of the BBC after the investigation by barrister Adam Heppinstall KC is published.

Lineker commented on Mr Sharp’s resignation on Twitter yesterday despite being taken off air by the broadcaster in March after a controversial post comparing the Home Office’s immigration policy to Nazi Germany.

The public broadcaster announced last month it would be conducting a social media review for freelancers following the row ignited over the presenter’s controversial Twitter post.

The former professional footballer returned to his presenting role following a boycott by top on-air talent.

Barrister Adam Heppinstall KC’s review said Mr Sharp risked a perception that he was recommended for the role because he assisted Mr Johnson “in a private financial matter” ahead of his appointment in 2021.

Mr Heppinstall, left, also said there was the risk it would be perceived that he influenced Mr Johnson to recommend him by notifying the former prime minister of his application before submitting it.

Failing to disclose both issues was found to have caused breaches of the governance code for public appointments.

In his resignation statement, Mr Sharp insisted that his breach of the rules was “inadvertent and not material”.

The former Goldman Sachs banker said: “Nevertheless, I have decided that it is right to prioritise the interests of the BBC.”

“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 resigned as BBC chairman to the Secretary of State, and to the Board.”

Mr Johnson’s role in the appointment of Mr Sharp should be examined, the former commissioner for public appointments Sir Peter Riddell said.

Sir Peter, who was the commissioner when Mr Sharp took on the BBC position, said Mr Johnson’s role “hasn’t really been discussed enough” because it was outside the remit of the inquiry.

He added: “[Mr Johnson] himself was conflicted… Should he have recused himself from the appointment given he knew about Richard Sharp helping him out on this loan?”

“Big questions remain” about “conflicts involving Mr Johnson’s role and about who made the loan to him,” Sir Peter also wrote on Twitter.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak declined to commit to ensuring Mr Sharp’s replacement is not a political appointment, telling broadcasters on a visit to Scotland he will follow the “established” procedure.

Opposition parties said Sunak should have sacked Mr Sharp sooner and called for the BBC’s new chair to be appointed independently from the Government.

Mr Heppinstall’s review was ordered when it emerged Mr Sharp introduced his friend Sam Blyth, a distant cousin of Mr Johnson who wanted to help him with his financial troubles, to Cabinet Secretary Simon Case ahead of being recommended for the role by the Government.

The report noted the support Mr Sharp received from Downing Street during the hiring process, with No 10 telling MPs interviewing candidates that he “looked like a strong candidate”.

Sir Peter also noted the “curiously murky” exchanges between Mr Sharp and Mr Case, and questioned whether the Cabinet Office should have told colleagues in the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport scrutinising Mr Sharp’s appointment about “what was happening with the private finances”.

Mr Johnson has declined to comment on the inquiry’s findings.

The BBC Board said: “We accept and understand Richard’s decision to stand down.”

Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer accepted the decision that Mr Sharp should remain in post until the next board meeting on June 27 when a temporary replacement will be appointed.

In a letter to Mr Sharp, she said that he is “held in high regard” by the BBC board but added that “I understand and respect your decision to stand down”.

BBC director-general Tim Davie thanked Mr Sharp for his service to the BBC and “the drive and intellect he brought to his time as chairman”.

He said: “Working with him over the last two years has been rewarding and Richard has made a significant contribution to the transformation and success of the BBC.”

“The focus for all of us at the BBC is continuing the hard work to ensure we deliver for audiences, both now and in the future.”

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