Labour calls for probe into claim Johnson recommended friend for top BBC job soon after he helped ex-PM secure loan

22 January 2023, 07:57 | Updated: 22 January 2023, 08:10

Anneliese Dodds is calling for an investigation into former PM Boris Johnson
Anneliese Dodds is calling for an investigation into former PM Boris Johnson. Picture: Getty

By Kit Heren

Labour is calling for an investigation into claims that a friend helped Boris Johnson get a guarantee for a large loan, before the then-Prime Minister recommended him for the job of chairman of the BBC.

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The party has called on Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards Daniel Greenberg to probe allegations that Tory donor Richard Sharp was involved in talks about Mr Johnson's finances in late 2020.

Mr Sharp introduced multimillionaire Canadian businessman Sam Blyth, who had proposed to act as the then-PM's guarantor for an £800,000 credit facility, to the Cabinet Secretary, according to the Sunday Times.

Mr Johnson, Mr Sharp and Mr Blyth then had dinner at the PM's country residence, Chequers, before the loan was finalised, though they denied the finances were discussed.

Boris Johnson's spokesperson denied any wrongdoing
Boris Johnson's spokesperson denied any wrongdoing. Picture: Getty

Mr Sharp, a former Goldman Sachs banker, was then announced as the Government's choice for the BBC role in January 2021.

A spokesperson for Mr Johnson dismissed the report as "rubbish" and insisted his financial arrangements "have been properly declared".

"Richard Sharp has never given any financial advice to Boris Johnson, nor has Mr Johnson sought any financial advice from him," the spokesman said.

Of Mr Johnson's private dinner with Mr Sharp, an old friend, and Mr Blyth, who is a distant relative, the spokesman said: "So what? Big deal."

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Mr Sharp told The Sunday Times: "There is not a conflict when I simply connected, at his request, Mr Blyth with the cabinet secretary and had no further involvement whatsoever."

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

In the letter to Mr Greenberg, Labour Party chair Anneliese Dodds called for an "urgent investigation" as she cited the MPs' code of conduct that "holders of public office should not place themselves under any financial or other obligation to outside individuals or organisations that might influence them in the performance of their official duties".

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She told the standards commissioner she was concerned that Mr Johnson "may have breached this section by asking for an individual to facilitate a guarantee on a loan whom he would later appoint to a senior public role".

"The lack of transparency around it, like that of the issue raised around Mr Blyth, may give the impression that this was a quid pro quo arrangement," she added.

It comes after Labour demanded a probe earlier this week into reports that Mr Johnson used Mr Blyth, reportedly worth 50 million dollars, to act as a guarantor for an £800,000 credit facility.

Richard Sharp was later recommended to be chairman of the BBC
Richard Sharp was later recommended to be chairman of the BBC. Picture: Getty

Ms Dodds raised concerns that neither alleged arrangement was properly declared.

She said: "The financial affairs of this disgraced former Prime Minister just keep getting murkier, dragging the Conservative Party deeper into yet another quagmire of sleaze.

"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?"