BBC chair Richard Sharp has denied allegations that he helped “arrange” a loan for the then U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson in 2020.
Appearing before a parliamentary inquiry convened by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee on Tuesday, Sharp said: “I’ve never given the [former] Prime Minister advice. He’s never sought it. I know nothing about his personal financial affairs.”
Under the BBC’s Royal Charter, which governs the broadcaster, the position of BBC Chair is appointed by the British monarch on the recommendation of the Prime Minister and Secretary of State for DCMS.
Sharp, a banker and former chair of the Royal Academy of Arts, was appointed in Jan. 2021 on the recommendation of Oliver Dowden, then DCMS secretary, and Boris Johnson, who was still Prime Minister at the time.
A report in U.K.’s The Sunday Times in January alleged that Johnson put forward the recommendation just weeks after Sharp “helped to arrange a guarantee on a loan of up to £800,000 [$990,000 ]” for Johnson.
According to The Sunday Times, Sharp was drawn into Johnson’s finances while dining with the Prime Minister and businessman Sam Blyth, a friend and “distant cousin” of Johnson’s. The report stated that Blyth had agreed to act as a guarantor for the loan and wanted Sharp’s “advice on the best way forward.”
The dinner took place just two months before Sharp was publicly unveiled as the government’s “preferred candidate” for the role of BBC chair.
The Sunday Times said that in Dec. 2020 the government’s propriety and ethics team sent Johnson a letter instructing him to stop “seeking Sharp’s advice about his personal finances, given the forthcoming BBC appointment.”
The newspaper also claimed that Sharp did not disclose to the BBC or the House of Commons his involvement in the loan during the application process.
In a memo addressed to BBC staff following publication of the report, Sharp wrote: “I was not involved in making a loan, or arranging a guarantee, and I did not arrange any financing. What I did do was to seek an introduction of Sam Blythe to the relevant official in Government.”
“I believe firmly that I was appointed on merit, which the Cabinet Office have also confirmed,” he added.
Johnson told Sky News at the time that the report was “a load of complete nonsense, absolute nonsense.”
“Let me just tell you, Richard Sharp is a good and a wise man,” Johnson had said. “But he knows absolutely nothing about my personal finances, I can tell you that for 100% ding dang sure.”
The committee, which also interviewed Sharp prior to his appointment as BBC chair, established that Sharp had effected an introduction of Blyth to Cabinet Secretary Simon Case and repeatedly asked him why he did not disclose the matter during the interview.
Sharp in turn repeatedly said that he was following “due process.”
“The facts are that a fair reasonable person would see that what I was trying to do was to ensure the due process was followed, that in fact, in introducing Mr. Blythe to the cabinet secretary or seeking to introduce Mr. Blythe to the Cabinet Secretary, I was ensuring that somebody who wanted to support his cousin was going to go about it in the right way. And then my involvement was to ensure that due process was followed, and that was what I was seeking to achieve,” Sharp said.
The executive also said that he had “explicitly addressed” the issue of his BBC candidature during a meeting with Case and had then bowed out of the process.
Sharp did not express any regret for failing to disclose the matter to the DCMS Committee when he was being interviewed for the job.
“I think I will continue to consider the actions I took,” Sharp said. “What I do know is I acted in good faith to ensure that the rules are followed. And in that sense, I have no regret for that.”