Probe urged over claims BBC chair helped Johnson secure loan

Boris Johnson in Downing Street, 13 November 2022

Labour is calling for a parliamentary investigation into Boris Johnson after claims the chairman of the BBC helped the former PM secure a loan – weeks before he recommended him for the role.

The Sunday Times says Richard Sharp helped arrange a guarantee on a loan of up to £800,000 for Mr Johnson.

Mr Sharp said there was no conflict of interest as he had “simply connected” the people involved in the loan.

Mr Johnson’s spokesman said he did not receive financial advice from Mr Sharp.

He also dismissed Labour’s suggestion Mr Johnson could have breached the code of conduct for MPs “through failing to appropriately declare the arrangement”.

Labour has written to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards.

The Sunday Times’ story reports that Mr Sharp – a Conservative Party donor – was involved in talks about helping Mr Johnson when he was in financial difficulty in late 2020.

former Goldman Sachs banker Mr Sharp was announced as the government’s choice for the new BBC chairman in January 2021. The BBC chairman is a role appointed on the recommendation of ministers.

The Sunday Times reports Mr Sharp introduced multimillionaire Canadian businessman Sam Blyth – who had proposed to act as the then-PM’s guarantor for the loan – to Simon Case, the then-cabinet secretary who was head of the civil service.

Mr Sharp, Mr Blyth and Mr Johnson then all had dinner together at Chequers before the loan was finalised, although the Sunday Times reports they say the PM’s finances were not discussed.

In a letter to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards Daniel Greenberg, Labour Party chair Anneliese Dodds said she was concerned that Mr Johnson may have breached rules “by asking for an individual to facilitate a guarantee on a loan whom he would later appoint to a senior public role”.

Ms Dodds said: “Serious questions need to be asked of Johnson: why has this money never been declared, and what exactly did he promise these very generous friends in return for such lavish loans?”

Labour had already written to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards calling for an investigation into the reports Mr Blyth – who is a distant cousin of Mr Johnson – had set up the loan facility.

The BBC chairman heads the board that sets the corporation’s strategic direction and ensures it upholds its public remit and independence.

The Sunday Times says candidates for such publicly-appointed roles are required to declare any conflicts of interest.

In a statement, Mr Sharp said: “There is not a conflict when I simply connected, at his request, Mr Blyth with the cabinet secretary and had no further involvement whatsoever.”

Undated handout photo issued by DCMS of Richard Sharp, the former Goldman Sachs banker who will succeed Sir David Clementi as BBC chairman. PA Photo. Issue date: Wednesday January 6, 2021. His appointment comes amid a debate about the BBC licence fee and how the broadcaster is facing competition from streaming services.

Richard Sharp became chairman of the BBC in February 2021

A spokesman for Mr Johnson denied the newspaper’s claims, saying: “This is rubbish. Richard Sharp has never given any financial advice to Boris Johnson, nor has Mr Johnson sought any financial advice from him. There has never been any remuneration or compensation to Mr Sharp from Boris Johnson for this or any other service.

“Mr Johnson did indeed have dinner with Mr Sharp, whom he has known for almost 20 years, and with his cousin. So what? Big deal.

“All Mr Johnson’s financial arrangements have been properly declared and registered on the advice of officials.”

In response to the earlier reports of the loan facility, a spokesman for Mr Johnson had rejected any suggestion there had been a conflict of interest or a breach of the MPs’ code of conduct, saying he had made all the “necessary declarations he was required to make”.

A BBC spokesman said: “The BBC plays no role in the recruitment of the chair and any questions are a matter for the government.”

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