BBC Chairman Probed Over Alleged Role in Helping Boris Johnson Secure Loan


BBC Chairman Richard Sharp is under investigation over potential conflicts of interests after allegations emerged that he had helped secure an £800,000 ($987,000) loan guarantee for former Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

The Sunday Times alleged that Sharp, a Tory donor and BBC chair candidate at the time, was involved in talks about financing Johnson when the then-prime minister found himself in financial difficulty in late 2020, shortly before Sharp was appointed chair of the public broadcaster.

On Monday, Sharp denied any role in arranging the loan and said the BBC board will “assess” this matter when it next meets.

Meanwhile, in response to a request from Labour’s shadow culture secretary Lucy Powell, Commissioner for Public Appointments William Shawcross said he would review the competition that led to Sharp’s appointment as BBC chairman to assure the public that “the process was run in compliance with the government’s governance code for public appointments.”

According to The Sunday Times, Sharp, a former Goldman Sachs banker, got involved in November 2020 after his friend Sam Blyth, a multi-millionaire Canadian businessman who is also a distant cousin of Johnson, floated the idea of acting as Johnson’s guarantor.

The report said Sharp in December 2020 introduced Blyth to Cabinet Secretary and Head of the Civil Service Simon Case and spoke to the prime minister. It also said that Sharp and Blyth had a private dinner with Johnson before the loan was finalised, but all three denied they had talked about Johnson’s finances at the dinner.

In January 2021, Sharp was appointed chair of the BBC on the recommendation of the prime minister and the culture secretary. The Sunday Times said neither Johnson nor Sharp declared the matter of the loan.

‘Distractions’

On Monday, Sharp released a statement, apologising to staff for the “distraction” the row has caused to the BBC.

He admitted that he had introduced his “old friend” Blyth to the Cabinet secretary, as the Canadian “wanted to support Boris Johnson.” But Sharp insisted that he “was not involved in making a loan, or arranging a guarantee,” and “did not arrange any financing.”

Sharp, who was working in Downing Street as a special adviser to the Treasury during the COVID-19 pandemic, said he brought the situation to Case.

“I went to see the cabinet secretary and explained who Sam was, and that, as a cousin of the then prime minister, he wanted to help him if possible,” Sharp said. “I also reminded the cabinet secretary that I had submitted my application for the position of BBC chairman.”

He added: “We both agreed that, to avoid any conflict, I should have nothing further to do with the matter. At that point there was no detail on the proposed arrangements and I had no knowledge of whether any assistance was possible, or could be agreed.

“Since that meeting I have had no involvement whatsoever with any process. Even now, I don’t know any more than is reported in the media about a loan or reported guarantee.”

The BBC’s headquarters in central London in an undated file photo. (Nick Ansell/PA)

Sharp said: “I am proud and honoured to have been appointed as the Chairman of the BBC. I have never hidden my longstanding relationship with the former prime minister, however I believe firmly that I was appointed on merit, which the Cabinet Office have also confirmed.”

He said he had agreed with the BBC board’s Senior Independent Director Sir Nicholas Serota that the committee shall “assess” the matter when it next meets.

Johnson also said Sharp has no knowledge of his personal finances, calling the row “a load of complete nonsense.”

Speaking to Sky News on Monday morning, Johnson said, “Let me just tell you, Richard Sharp is a good and wise man but he knows absolutely nothing about my personal finances.”

‘Rigorous Process’

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Monday distanced himself from Sharp’s appointment, but said the BBC chairman went through a “rigorous” appointment process.

Speaking during a visit to a hospital in Northamptonshire, Sunak said: “This appointment was obviously made by one of my predecessors before I became prime minister.

“The appointments process itself for appointing the BBC chairman is a rigorous process, it is independent, there are two stages to it, it is transparent and published online. Mr. Sharp’s appointment went through that full process.”

Downing Street also denied that Sharp’s appointment was an example of “cronyism.”

The prime minister’s official spokesman said: “There are processes in place to ensure that these appointments are done properly. That was followed in this instance.”

But Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said there are “serious questions to answer here” in terms of “the connection, the discussions, and what went on.”

“It’s right that it’s being looked at and we need to get to the bottom of this as quickly as possible.

“I think for many people this morning who are struggling with their bills, struggling with their jobs, struggling with all of the pressures that come about because of 13 years of failure, they’ll be looking at the government and saying: ‘What have we got? We got scandal story after scandal story.’

“What they want is a government that’s delivering and they haven’t got that.”

Lily Zhou and PA Media contributed to this report.

Alexander Zhang



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