BBC Chairman Slammed By MPs Over Role In Boris Johnson Loan

Richard Sharp insisted his relationship with the former PM was "broadly professional".
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Under-fire BBC chairman Richard Sharp has denied giving Boris Johnson financial advice after MPs criticised his role in facilitating an £800,000 loan for the former prime minister.

Sharp has faced calls to stand down following reports that he helped broker the loan to ease the former prime minister’s financial difficulties.

The BBC chairman, who has donated hundreds of thousands of pounds to the Conservative Party, repeatedly denied that he helped to arrange the loan and insisted his relationship with Johnson was “broadly professional”.

He also said he had “never given financial advice to the former prime minister, he’s never asked for it, he never received it from me”.

“I didn’t arrange the loan,” he added.

Sharp was hauled in front of parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Select Committee following weeks of accusations.

The Sunday Times reported last month that Sharp introduced Johnson’s distant multimillionaire cousin Sam Blyth — who proposed to act as the guarantor for a credit facility— to the Cabinet Secretary, Simon Case, in late 2020.

In January 2021, Sharp, a former Goldman Sachs banker, was announced as the government’s choice for the BBC role.

Sharp agreed with acting DCMS committee chairman Damian Green that he “acted as a sort of introduction agency” between his friend Blyth and Case.

When Green put this to the BBC chairman Sharp replied: “Exactly, what I did was ensured that due process and propriety was followed.”

He said he then “raised with Mr Blyth the fact that I’d submitted my application to be the chair of the BBC and that therefore to avoid a conflict, or perception of conflict, I could have – and we agreed – no further participation in whatever transpired whatsoever, and I didn’t.”

Sharp said his role in the discussion was to simply introduce Blyth to Case and to ensure that “due process and propriety was followed”.

Days before Sharp was announced as BBC chair, Case wrote to Johnson asking him to stop seeking “advice” about his financial affairs from Sharp.

The advice issued by Case said: “Given the imminent announcement of Richard Sharp as the new BBC chair, it is important that you no longer ask his advice about your personal financial matters.”

MPs on the DCMS select committee said the leaked memo, dated December 22 2020, contradicted Sharp’s statement that he had not provided Johnson with financial advice.

Asked about the memo, Sharp insisted the “phrasing was wrong”.

And pressed on whether he ever gave Johnson informal advice, Sharp replied: “No, our relationship is broadly professional”.

He also disclosed that he told Johnson that he “wished to apply to be the chair of the BBC”.

Sharp’s involvement in the saga has caused significant embarrassment at the BBC, which is holding its own internal investigation into whether there had been any breach of its conflict of interest rules.

Labour MP Kevin Brennan asked Sharp why he considered getting involved in the discussions in the first place.

“When Mr Blyth approached you about helping the prime minister, did you at any point consider — given the position and the fact that you were considering and then were actively pursuing the position of chair the BBC — did you actually at any point consider saying, simply, ‘sorry, I can’t help?’”

Sharp replied: “Knowing I’d had the conversation with him in September..clearly, you know, I could have said no.”

Brennan interjected: “Why didn’t you?”

“I felt that I could help ensure that due process was followed,” Sharp said.

Brennan continued: “Did you think of saying, ‘I can’t help because I’m in the middle of an appointments process for very high profile, public appointment — chair of the BBC which, by the way, the prime minister will have the final say over — what kind of an idiot do you think I am?’”

Sharp went on to say he felt his participation was to “ensure that due process was followed, and the rules were followed”.

Brennan hit back: “I’ll tell you what I would have said to him: I would have said firstly, it’s not my job to have anything to do with bailing out the prime minister and his personal finances and his unaffordable lifestyle.

“And I would have said, more importantly, ‘I’m a candidate for this key public appointment’.”

Elsewhere in the committee hearing, Sharp declined to say whether he would resign if a separate investigation by the public appointments watchdog criticises him for withholding information about his involvement in Johnson’s finances during his application for the BBC chairmanship.

Asked the question, he told MPs: “Well I’ll need to see what the inquiry produces.”

Sharp insisted he was “subject to a very rigorous interview process” and that he was appointed “on merit”.

He also said: “I regret the distraction this has caused, there’s no doubt about that.”


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