Labour is demanding an investigation into Boris Johnson’s appointment of the BBC chairman who is reported to have helped the disgraced former prime minister secure an £800,000 loan.
Richard Sharp was appointed chairman of the BBC by Johnson in 2021, only weeks after helping him arrange a guarantee on a loan in late 2020.
Johnson – who paid a surprise visit to Ukraine on Sunday (Jan 22) – has denied any conflict of interest. However, shadow culture secretary Lucy Powell has asked the commissioner for public appointments to examine the appointment.
A statement from the government Cabinet Office said Sharp was appointed after a “rigorous process” that included assessment by a panel of experts and “scrutiny” by a Commons select committee.
However, it appears Sharp’s involvement in helping Johnson secure the loan guarantee – from his distant cousin Sam Blyth, a Canadian businessman – “was seemingly not declared to the culture department’s appointment panel,” reports the Guardian.
The Cabinet Office “won’t address a single revelation about its role” in Sharp’s appointment, comments Gabriel Pogrund, the Sunday Times’ Whitehall editor. This includes the Cabinet Office’s “own letter to Boris Johnson telling [the then] PM to stop soliciting Sharp’s advice – and [Cabinet Secretary] Simon Case’s talks with Sharp.”
“Richard Sharp is not only long-term friends with Boris Johnson”, tweeted the deputy political editor of the Sunday Times, Harry Yorke, “[H]e is also Rishi Sunak’s former boss”.
Both Sunak and Sharp worked for investment bankers Goldman Sachs (as did, cabinet secretary Case). Sharp was also an adviser to Sunak when he was chancellor and previously for Johnson when he was London mayor. The BBC chairman has also been a major donor to the Conservative party, “giving more than £400,000 from 2001-10 and £4,600 since then,” according to the Guardian.
Responding to the Times’ article about Johnson making Sharp chairman of the BBC, Johnson’s spokesperson said: “So what, big deal.”
Barrister and director of the Good Law Project Jolyon Maugham tweeted: “The potential conflict of interest Richard Sharp ought to have declared, in case it assists him, is that playing an active role in facilitating a loan for the PM might raise questions about whether he would properly ensure the BBC acted independently of the PM’s wishes.”
Shadow culture secretary Lucy Powell commented: “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.”
Powell added: “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.”
While speculation and predictions continue over a Johnson return to Downing Street, the Independent reports that restoring the disgraced former PM to power would be electorally damaging for the Conservative party.
Their “prospects at the next general election would be considerably more dire” should Johnson “return to the helm” according to a new poll of voters.