No 10 ally on BBC board accused of trying to block senior editorial role

A BBC board member with close ties to Downing Street has been accused of attempting to block a senior editorial appointment on political grounds.

Sources told the Financial Times that Sir Robbie Gibb issued a warning to the corporation after Jess Brammar, former editor of HuffPost UK and deputy editor of BBC Newsnight, became the leading candidate to oversee the BBC’s news channels.

The newspaper claims that Gibb, who was Theresa May’s communications director during her tenure as prime minister, and helped launch the rightwing news channel GB News, told the BBC’s director for news and current affairs, Fran Unsworth, in a text message last month that she “cannot make this appointment”.

He added the government’s “fragile trust in the BBC will be shattered” if she went ahead.

Sources told the newspaper that the decision about Brammar’s appointment in a newly created role overseeing the corporation’s news channels has subsequently taken longer than anticipated.

A BBC spokesperson said: “The BBC doesn’t comment on ongoing recruitment processes, which are the responsibility of the executive, but for the record, no recruitment process has been blocked. People should wait for the outcome which will be announced in due course.

“And as a general principle, board members are able to discuss issues with other board members or senior executives. These principles were adhered to.”

Gibb has yet to comment on the allegations.

The Sunday Times previously reported that Gibb’s appointment as a non-executive director on the BBC board in April only came about following sustained support from key Conservative adviser Dougie Smith.

Since ending his involvement with GB News last year to concentrate on his public relations business, Gibb has remained close to Boris Johnson’s Downing Street operation.

As a former BBC producer who edited the Daily Politics before entering politics, Gibb also advised on the media strategy to support the government’s much-criticised report on racism in the UK, which was accused of downplaying slavery.

The FT reported that part of Gibb’s resistance to Brammar centres on a row between HuffPost UK – where she was until recently editor-in-chief – and Conservative equalities minister Kemi Badenoch.

After being approached with a series of questions by a HuffPost reporter in January, Badenoch embarked on a Twitter tirade about how the site had a vendetta against her. Brammar then defended her reporter and attempted to force the Cabinet Office to investigate Badenoch’s conduct.

Ultimately the Cabinet Office declined to investigate, arguing that despite Badenoch being a government minister, her Twitter account was her personal outlet.

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