Charles Moore
Charles Moore was frontrunner for the post after securing the enthusiastic support of the prime minister © Marcin Obara/EPA

Boris Johnson’s preferred choice to become chair of the BBC has pulled out of the contest, according to people familiar with the process.

Charles Moore, the former editor of the Daily Telegraph newspaper and a prominent critic of the BBC’s licence fee, was frontrunner for the post after securing the enthusiastic support of the prime minister.

But two people close to the process said Mr Johnson’s former editor had decided against applying. One Whitehall insider said it was for personal reasons. Lord Moore could not be reached for comment at the time of publication.

Reports of Lord Moore’s potential appointment as chair of the national broadcaster, which emerged even before the launch of a formal competition, stoked controversy because of his strident views on the BBC, climate change and social issues.

Lord Moore was convicted and fined in 2010 for failing to pay the licence fee, after leading a protest over the BBC’s handling of an on-air incident involving the presenter Jonathan Ross.

Julian Knight, the Conservative chair of parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, has described the appointment of a chair convicted of non-payment of the licence fee as “completely beyond the pale”.

His select committee had written to Oliver Dowden, the culture secretary, to express concern that leaks were wrecking the recruitment process. “We cannot have a fair process undermined by politicking,” Mr Knight said.

Allies of the prime minister said he was still keen to appoint Paul Dacre, the former editor of the Daily Mail newspaper for 26 years, to chair Ofcom, the media regulator. Mr Dacre has yet to publicly state whether he is interested in the position.

A job advert for the successor to David Clementi, the BBC’s outgoing chair, is expected to be published by the government shortly. The process is outlined in the code for public appointments, with candidates vetted by a selection panel. But in practice the prime minister can override the shortlist of “appointable” candidates.

Former cabinet ministers in the running include Nicky Morgan, the former culture secretary, and George Osborne, the former chancellor and editor-in-chief of the Evening Standard newspaper. Private sector candidates are also expected.

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