January 22, 2023
Britain’s opposition Labor Party is calling for a parliamentary inquiry into allegations that the BBC chief helped former Prime Minister Boris Johnson secure a guarantee for a loan, weeks before Johnson recommended him for the post.
The Sunday Times says Richard Sharpe played a role in arranging a guarantor for a loan of up to £800,000 for Johnson.
Sharp said he “simply connected” people and that there was no conflict of interest.
Johnson’s spokesman said he had not received financial advice from Sharp.
He also rejected Labor claims that Johnson may have breached the Code of Conduct for MPs by “failing to make the arrangement public” on his Parliamentary Interest Register.
Labor leader Anneliese Dodds has written to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, Daniel Greenberg, asking for an “urgent investigation into the facts of this case”.
“Obviously awareness is important,” the foreign secretary, James Cleverly, told the BBC’s Laura Kunzberg programme. But he added that Sharpe is “a very accomplished and successful individual who came to the position with a wealth of experience” and that he was “appointed on merit, without a doubt”.
He also said it was not “unusual for someone to be politically active prior to being appointed to senior positions at the BBC”.
Sharp declined to be on The Laura Kunzberg Show on Sunday, but told the show that “the claim that there was anything financial about it is not true.”
Meanwhile, Johnson traveled to Ukraine at the invitation of President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Reports indicate that Johnson was in financial difficulty in late 2020.
The Sunday Times says that billionaire Canadian businessman Sam Blythe discussed with Sharp the idea of being Johnson’s guarantor for a loan. There is no information about the grantor of the loan.
Sharpe, then a Conservative donor and bidder for the BBC leadership, contacted Simon Case, the then Cabinet Secretary and head of the Civil Service.
The Cabinet Office later wrote a letter asking Johnson to stop asking Sharpe for advice on his personal finances, in view of the prospective appointment to the BBC, according to the Sunday Times.
The BBC has not seen the letter. The Cabinet Office said it would “not comment on private discussions between any prime minister and officials”.
According to the newspaper, Sharp, Blythe and Johnson had dinner together at the prime minister’s country residence before completing the loan guarantee procedures, but they denied discussing the prime minister’s financial affairs at the time.
Sharpe, a former Goldman Sachs banker, was announced as the government’s choice for the BBC’s new chairman in January 2021. The figure for the post is recommended by the Minister for Culture and the Prime Minister.
The BBC Chairman chairs the Board of Directors, which sets the strategic direction for the organization and upholds its independence.
The Sunday Times says candidates for such particular roles are generally required to declare any conflicts of interest.
“There is no discrepancy, as I simply connected Blyth, at his request, to the Government Secretary and was not involved in anything else whatsoever,” Sharp said in a statement.
Labor had already written to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards calling for an investigation into reports that Blythe, a relative of Johnson’s, had facilitated the loan.
In her letter to the commissioner, Anneliese Dodds cited the Sunday Times report, saying she was concerned that Johnson might have broken the rules “by asking that an individual, who would later be appointed to high-ranking public office, facilitate securing a loan”.
It said the “lack of transparency” might “give the impression that this was a quid pro quo arrangement, something that would undermine the integrity of the democratic process and raise questions about the process by which the BBC chairman was appointed”.
A spokesman for Johnson said: “Richard Sharp never gave Boris Johnson any financial advice, and Johnson never sought any financial advice from him. There was no remuneration or compensation to Sharp from Boris Johnson for this or any other service.”
“Mr. Johnson has already dined with Mr. Sharp, whom he has known for nearly 20 years, and with his cousin. So what?”
“All of Mr Johnson’s financial arrangements have been properly publicized and recorded on the advice of those in charge.”
A spokesman for the BBC: “BBC does not play any role in the appointment of the president, and any questions are the concern of the government.”