A potentially damning report on how Richard Sharp was recommended for the job of BBC chair by Boris Johnson is expected to be published on Friday morning.
Sources say the report, by the barrister Adam Heppinstall KC, could prove uncomfortable reading for Sharp.
The former Conservative party donor was appointed in 2021, and it subsequently emerged that he had failed to reveal while applying that he had helped an acquaintance seeking to offer a secret £800,000 personal loan guarantee for Johnson.
MPs have criticised Sharp for “significant errors of judgment” in failing to declare the potential conflict of interest, and the commissioner for public appointments launched an investigation into the circumstances surrounding him getting the job.
Sources told the Guardian last week that the report was expected to be “very uncomfortable” for Sharp, potentially placing his future as BBC chair in doubt.
Details remain limited, however. Under the protocol for such reports, in which individuals are likely to have been criticised, those involved such as Sharp will have been shown the finished document in advance, but with circulation otherwise very restricted.
In February, Sharp faced an often uncomfortable grilling by MPs on the culture, media and sport committee, at which he revealed that he personally informed Johnson and Rishi Sunak that he wanted the job before he applied.
Sharp, who was accused of exemplifying a “pals appointing pals” establishment culture, accepted he played a role in helping Sam Blyth, a Canadian businessman who is a distant cousin of Johnson, assist the then PM with his finances, but insisted his role was to “ensure due process was followed”.
Sharp told the MPs that Blyth was at a private dinner at his house in September 2020 when the Canadian said he had read reports that Johnson was in “some difficulties” and that he wanted to help. Sharp said he warned him about the ethical complexities of this.
Sharp was at the time working in Downing Street on Covid projects, and told Johnson and Sunak of his aim to be BBC chair. He told the committee: “I communicated to the prime minister and to the chancellor that I wished to apply and submitted my application in November.”
Sharp’s allies have fought a rearguard campaign for him to remain in the job, arguing that he is well placed to help the BBC through a difficult period when its funding is under pressure and it needs to carefully manage its relationship with the government.
Although Sharp has become a figure of loathing among many rank-and-file BBC journalists, at management level the perception is that he has come around to the BBC’s side on many issues and recognises the financial pressure that the corporation is under.
If Sharp were to quit, the government would immediately appoint one of the BBC’s other non-executive directors as acting chair. They include the broadcaster Muriel Gray and the financier Damon Buffini.
Perhaps the most explosive option, however, would be to appoint Robbie Gibb, a board member who was previously Theresa May’s communications chief and has pushed a pro-Conservative agenda within the BBC.
Sunak’s government would then have the option of making a new permanent appointment with a fresh four-year term in office. That could mean that a future Labour government would have to deal with a Tory-appointed chair until 2027.