Pressure grows on BBC chief after he made 'significant error of judgement' in arranging £800,000 loan for Boris Johnson

12 February 2023, 09:17 | Updated: 12 February 2023, 14:19

BBC Chief Richard Sharp helped to arrange an £800,000 loan guarantee for ex-PM Boris Johnson
BBC Chief Richard Sharp helped to arrange an £800,000 loan guarantee for ex-PM Boris Johnson. Picture: Getty
Kieran Kelly

By Kieran Kelly

Pressure is growing on BBC chairman Richard Sharp after a cross-party group of MPs found he made a "significant error of judgement" by helping to arrange an £800,000 loan for ex-Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Mr Sharp should "consider the impact his omissions will have" on trust within the BBC after failing to declare to MPs his role in facilitating the loan when he was applying for the job of BBC chairman, a report by MPs found.

Shadow Cabinet minister Lisa Nandy said Richard Sharp's position at the BBC has become "untenable".

"Increasingly the circumstances around the relationship between the Conservative prime minister Boris Johnson and Richard Sharp is looking more and more murky and I think his position is becoming increasingly untenable as a result," she told Sophie Ridge on Sunday.

MPs said Mr Sharp's actions "constitute a breach of the standards expected of individuals" applying for prominent public appointments.

Mr Sharp has insisted that he did not arrange the loan but admitted he introduced Mr Johnson and his friend Sam Blyth, who wanted to help the then-prime minister with his financial troubles, to Cabinet.

BBC Chairman Richard Sharp
BBC Chairman Richard Sharp. Picture: DCMS Committee

A spokesman for Mr Sharp said he "regrets" not telling MPs about his involvement with Mr Blyth "and apologises".

Mr Sharp was named as the preferred candidate for the BBC job in January 2021 and the Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee backed his appointment.

"Richard Sharp's decisions, firstly to become involved in the facilitation of a loan to the then-prime minister while at the same time applying for a job that was in that same person's gift, and then to fail to disclose this material relationship, were significant errors of judgment," the MPs said.

Read More: Boris accuses BBC of 'disappearing up its own fundament' over claims chief helped ex-PM secure £800,000 loan

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The committee concluded: "Mr Sharp should consider the impact his omissions will have on trust in him, the BBC and the public appointments process."

The MPs were also critical of current PM Rishi Sunak and other senior ministers who had highlighted their 2021 decision to endorse Mr Sharp.

"The fact that ministers have cited this committee's original report on Mr Sharp's appointment as a defence of the process was followed, when we were not in full possession of all the facts that we should have had before us in order to come to our judgment, is highly unsatisfactory," the MPs added.

MPs said Richard Sharp's role in arranging an £800,000 loan for Boris Johnson could undermine trust within the BBC
MPs said Richard Sharp's role in arranging an £800,000 loan for Boris Johnson could undermine trust within the BBC. Picture: Getty

The MPs said there was an "unresolved issue" as to why Cabinet Secretary Simon Case believed Mr Sharp had himself been giving financial advice to Mr Johnson and called on the Cabinet Office to "clear up the confusion".

"Mr Sharp denied that he had ever given financial advice to the then-prime minister but was unable to account for the decision by the Cabinet Office to issue a note to the prime minister advising him not to seek further financial advice from Mr Sharp given his impending appointment as chair of the BBC," the MPs said.

Richard Sharp was appointed as BBC Chairman when Boris Johnson was prime minister
Richard Sharp was appointed as BBC Chairman when Boris Johnson was prime minister. Picture: Getty

Boris Johnson previously dismissed claims that Mr Sharp helped him secure an £800,000 loan as "absolute nonsense" and accused the broadcasting corporation of "disappearing up its own fundament".

Mr Sharp had asked for a scrutiny panel to examine potential conflicts of interest over claims he helped former prime minister Boris Johnson secure an £800,000 loan.

Speaking to Sky News in January, Mr Johnson said: "This is a load of complete nonsense - absolute nonsense.

"Let me just tell you, Richard Sharp is a great and wise man but he knows absolutely nothing about my personal finances - I can tell you that for 100% ding dang sure."This is just another example of the BBC disappearing up its own fundament."

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