Labour urges probe into BBC chair appointment amid Boris Johnson loan claims

Labour urges probe into BBC chair appointment amid Boris Johnson loan claims

Labour has asked for an investigation into the appointment of the BBC chairman amid claims he helped Boris Johnson secure a loan – weeks before the then-prime minister recommended him for the role.

Shadow culture secretary Lucy Powell has written to the Commissioner for Public Appointments asking him to investigate the process by which Richard Sharp got the job.

Labour has also written to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards calling for an investigation into the claims.

The Sunday Times reported Mr Sharp, a Tory donor, was involved in arranging a guarantor on a loan of up to £800,000 for Mr Johnson in late 2020.

Mr Sharp told the newspaper he had “simply connected” people and there was no conflict of interest while Mr Johnson’s spokesman dismissed the report as “rubbish” and insisted his financial arrangements “have been properly declared”.

Ms Powell said it is “vital” the public and Parliament can trust the appointment process and that it must be “free from any real or perceived conflict of interest”.

In her letter to William Shawcross, Ms Powell stated: “The BBC derives its public trust and national standing from its independence and impartiality, something we hear a lot about from the Government about the BBC.

“It is vital that the public and Parliament can have trust in this process, and it is free from any real or perceived conflict of interest.

“Accordingly, I urge you to investigate this process and satisfy the public and Parliament of its integrity.”

Meanwhile, the Foreign Secretary has said he has “no doubt” Mr Sharp was appointed on “merit”.

James Cleverly, who was faced with numerous questions on the story as he took to the airwaves on Sunday, said Mr Sharp was appointed on “merit” and that “there is nothing wrong” with someone who is politically active then being appointed to the BBC.

He told the BBC’s Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg programme: “I know that he (Richard Sharp) is an incredibly accomplished, incredibly successful individual who brings a wealth of experience with him.

“That is why he was appointed to the 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.”

Jame Cleverly
Foreign Secretary James Cleverly insisted the BBC chairman was appointed on merit (Peter Morrison/PA)

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.”

According to The Sunday Times, Mr Sharp introduced multimillionaire Canadian businessman Sam Blyth, who had proposed to act as Mr Johnson’s guarantor for a credit facility, to Cabinet Secretary Simon Case.

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

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

Mr Johnson’s sister suggested Mr Case was central to the arrangement of the £800,000 credit facility.

Rachel Johnson denied any knowledge of her brother’s financial affairs, telling Kuenssberg: “All the parties involved have given statements to The Sunday Times, which suggest they did everything above board and everything was transparent.

Liz Truss becomes PM
The claims are linked to a loan of up to £800,000 for Boris Johnson in late 2020 (Aaron Chown/PA)

“I suggest you ask Simon Case, who seems to be the linchpin in both these stories, to come on and say what happened.”

Shadow Treasury minister Pat McFadden described the report of Mr Johnson and the BBC chairman as “pretty extraordinary”.

On Sky News’ Sophy Ridge On Sunday programme, he said: “There’s nothing in Boris Johnson’s declaration of interest as an MP about this. It’s been brought into the open by journalism, not by people being transparent, and that’s why I do think this does need to be looked at.”

In a letter to Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards Daniel 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”.

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

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