First joining the national broadcaster in 1983, Sopel went on to rise through the ranks, becoming the chief political correspondent for BBC News 24 and later spent three years as the BBC’s Paris correspondent.
He then worked as a presenter on the Politics Show, co-presented on the BBC News Channel, was also the main presenter of Global on BBC World News and hen became the BBC North America editor.
In 2022 he announced he was leaving the BBC.
However, he’s now revealed that around the same time he decided to quit, he had been lined up to take over the political editor job from Kuenssberg, 47, who recently came under fire from viewers after showing ‘bias’ during an interview with a senior Labour politician.
Sopel, 64, has said it looked like a ‘done deal’ for him to take on the role in April 2022, however he decided to turn it down because of a ‘whole bunch of nagging doubts’.
‘They wanted me to become political editor and take over from Laura, and it looked like it was a done deal,’ he said while speaking on the Iain Dale All Talk podcast.
‘But my family were very against it. They said, “You’re an old man now, dad. Why do you want to be standing outside Downing Street in the freezing cold every night?”.’
The broadcaster went on to share how he never understood the practice of reporters speaking to camera outside No 10, even when he was the BBC’s chief political correspondent.
‘I always thought, “Why am I standing outside Downing Street?” It’s the most meaningless shot in the world,’ he said.
‘It’s not like Rishi Sunak is coming out and bringing you a cup of tea.’
In the interview, Sopel also spoke about how the ‘toxicity’ Kuenssberg was subjected to on social media also concerned him.
‘What Laura was subject to was pretty unpleasant. I’d had enough of it with [Donald] Trump, and I just wasn’t sure in my own mind that I wanted to commit the next four or five years of my life to being political editor.’
Although BBC bosses were reportedly keen for him to replicate his approach of calling out Trump’s ‘downright lies’, to Westminster, Sopel said he was worried it might lead to conflict with Downing Street.
‘My report on the ten o’clock news was not going to lead to Donald Trump picking up the phone to the director-general of the BBC and saying, “What the hell has Sopel just said?” Whereas I think in British politics it’s very possible that No 10 does call the director-general,’ he said.
The job was ultimately secured by Chris Mason, with other rumoured contenders including BBC’s Alex Forsyth, the former Daily Mirror reporter Pippa Crerar, Sophy Ridge from Sky News and ITV’s Anushka Asthana.
After leaving the BBC, Sopel now presents the News Agents podcast alongside former Newsnight presenters Emily Maitlis and Lewis Goodall.
He said presenting a podcast for a commercial outlet now also allowed him to speak more freely.
‘We can say what we like. We can say, “Oh my God, what a mess they’ve made of that!” whereas at the BBC you would not be able to say that of Keir Starmer or Rishi [Sunak],’ he said.
He went on to say the BBC ‘rightly has got to have due impartiality and is subject to much greater scrutiny than others because of the funding model’ and ‘therefore has to be more cautious.’