BBC Chairman Was Appointed ‘On Merit’, Minister Insists Amid Johnson Loan Allegations

Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

James Cleverly today insisted that the BBC chairman was appointed “on merit” amid claims he helped Boris Johnson secure a loan.

The foreign secretary said chairman Richard Sharp was an “incredibly experienced individual” during a grilling on Sunday morning.

Labour is calling for a parliamentary investigation into claims that Sharp helped Johnson secure a loan - weeks before the then-prime minister recommended him for the role.

BBC chairman Richard Sharp
BBC chairman Richard Sharp

BBC chairman Richard Sharp

The Sunday Times claimed that Sharp was involved in arranging a guarantor on a loan of up to £800,000 for Johnson.

Sharp said he had “simply connected” people and there was no conflict of interest and Johnson’s spokesman said he did not receive financial advice from Sharp.

Cleverly said he had no doubt Sharp was appointed “on merit” and that “there is nothing wrong” for someone to be politically active prior to their appointment to senior BBC positions.

The foreign secretary told BBC’s Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg show: “I know that he is an incredibly accomplished, incredibly successful individual who brings a wealth of experience with him.

“That is why he was appointed to chairmanship of the BBC, but I’ve not had the chance to discuss any of the issues that were brought up today, but I have absolutely no doubt he was appointed on merit, and the point that I would just remind people of is it is not unusual, and indeed there is nothing wrong, for someone to be politically active prior to their appointment to senior BBC positions.

“That’s something that has happened pretty regularly in the past.”

Asked whether the connection should have been declared in full on principle, he said: “Richard is an incredibly accomplished individual, had he not had a very, very successful career, giving him a wealth of experience before putting himself forward for BBC chairman, he wouldn’t have even been in the looking.”

Labour has written to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards Daniel Greenberg following the allegations.

Sharp introduced multimillionaire Canadian businessman Sam Blyth, who had proposed to act as the then-PM’s guarantor for a credit facility, to the Cabinet Secretary, according to The Sunday Times.

James Cleverly said he has no doubt Sharp was appointed “on merit”.
James Cleverly said he has no doubt Sharp was appointed “on merit”.

James Cleverly said he has no doubt Sharp was appointed “on merit”.

The newspaper said Johnson, Sharp and Blyth then had dinner at Chequers before the loan was finalised, though they denied the PM’s finances were discussed.

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

A spokesperson for 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 Johnson sought any financial advice from him,” the spokesman said.

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

Sharp told The Sunday Times: “There is not a conflict when I simply connected, at his request, 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 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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