UK

BBC chairman Richard Sharp is denying a role in Boris Johnson’s loan ahead of his appointment

BBC leader Richard Sharp has denied giving Boris Johnson a loan of up to £800,000 before the then-Prime Minister backed his appointment to head the channel.

In a bloody cricket from MPs, Mr Sharp insisted he “didn’t arrange the loan”, although he admitted he had shortly before introduced his friend Sam Blyth, who wanted to help the then Prime Minister with his financial woes, to the Cabinet Office to take over the BBC reel.

The former Goldman Sachs banker said he regretted “being embarrassed by the BBC” but appeared unrepentant about telling the Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee about his involvement in the matter withheld while he was in the BBC Running for the BBC post.

Mr Sharp, who was dragged before the committee again on Tuesday, admitted he acted as “a sort of matchmaking agency” in arranging a meeting between Mr Blyth and Cabinet Secretary Simon Case.

“As an intermediary, I wasn’t between Mr Blyth and Mr Johnson, but I really wanted to make sure due process was followed by making sure Mr Blyth had contact with the Cabinet Office before he would do anything to help his cousin .” he added.

Mr Sharp said he then addressed with Mr Case “the fact that I had submitted my application to chair the BBC and therefore, to avoid a conflict or the perception of a conflict, I could not have further participation – and we were.” agreed on whatever happened, and I didn’t.”

Mr Sharp admitted he went to Mr Johnson to discuss the BBC presidency before applying, but insisted their relationship was “largely professional”.

He told the then Prime Minister at their meeting that Mr Blyth wanted to meet Mr Case to see if he could help Mr Johnson with his finances, he revealed.

But Mr Sharp said: “I have not and have not given the former Prime Minister any personal financial advice, I know nothing about his (financial) affairs, I never did.

Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson (Andrew Boyers/PA)

“I didn’t broker a loan…

“I have nothing to do with it at all, I’m not involved in anything that happened or didn’t happen then.

“I don’t know any bank, I don’t know the actual loan.”

The BBC leader has been accused by MP Kevin Brennan of a “monumental error of judgement” for failing to brief the DCMS committee on the agreement at its pre-appointment hearing in January 2021.

Asked if he regrets not doing so, Mr Sharp said: “Obviously I regret this situation.”

Pressed further, he said he found “consolation” in putting forward his candidacy for the BBC role during his meeting with Mr Case.

He denied wanting to hide his involvement, thinking it would never come to light.

The BBC chairman said: “It is obvious that the BBC is embarrassed by this and I regret that.”

He said while he wished “we weren’t where we are now”, “I acted in good faith to ensure the rules were followed and in that sense I have no regrets”.

He declined to say whether he would resign if an investigation by the Public Appointments Inspectorate found him for withholding information.

He told MPs he had to “see what the inquiry turns up” and insisted he was “subjected to a very rigorous interview process” and hired “on merit”.

Mr Sharp also accused the press of “mischaracterizing” and disseminating “material inaccuracies” about his involvement, including BBC journalists who are “guilty” of repeating “inaccuracies” from other media outlets.

Rishi Sunak said Mr Sharp’s appointment appears to have been carried out “rigorously and transparently”.

The Prime Minister said: “This is obviously about an appointment by a previous Prime Minister before I took that job, so it’s difficult for me to comment on the details.

“What I do know is that his appointment process was rigorous and transparent; it was approved by a panel of experts and even a cross-party special committee in Parliament.

“But it is true that people have confidence in the process and that is why the Independent Commissioner for Public Appointments is reviewing the process to make sure everything has been done correctly.”

But Damian Green, acting chair of the DCMS committee, said the process for scrutinizing the BBC chair was “rather unsatisfactory” and MPs “didn’t know all the facts”.

He told LBC’s Tonight With Andrew Marr programme: “There was a material relationship between him and the Prime Minister that we should have known about.”

Public Appointments Commissioner William Shawcross was set to investigate how Mr Sharp got the job, but last week sat back and said the couple had met “on previous occasions”.

Attorney Adam Heppinstall KC has now been assigned to lead the investigation.

The Liberal Democrats said Mr Sharp’s evidence “completely undermines” Mr Johnson’s earlier claims.

Lib Dem Chief Whip Wendy Chamberlain said: “Johnson is once again true to form of being a top liar.

“We have seen cover-up after cover-up with this Conservative government and the public deserves full transparency.

“It is clear that Boris Johnson’s tenure will increasingly be remembered as a series of shabby scandals that have dragged Britain down the abyss.”

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