Controversy is swelling around the appointment of BBC Chair Richard Sharp following a report by The Sunday Times of London that the senior television exec helped “arrange” a loan for Boris Johnson when Johnson was still Prime Minister.
Under the BBC’s Royal Charter, which governs the broadcaster, the position of BBC Chair is appointed by British monarch on the recommendation of the Prime Minister and Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (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 new report in The Sunday Times alleges 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.
Johnson’s financial woes have been widely reported in the U.K. press, dating back to his time as Prime Minister. According to one Guardian report, he “is said to regularly complain to friends that he is hard up, citing his second divorce, several children and his reduced income since entering No 10.”
The U.K. Prime Ministerial salary currently stands at £164,080 ($203,000) per annum.
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 states 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 claims that Sharp did not disclose to the BBC or the House of Commons his involvement in the loan during the application process.
In a statement, Sharp reportedly told The Sunday Times: “There is not a conflict when I simply connected, at his request, Mr Blyth with the cabinet secretary and had no further involvement whatsoever.”
On Monday, however, BBC News reported that Sharp would defer to the BBC’s board to “review any potential conflicts of interest he may have.”
It added that in an email addresses to BBC staff, Sharp had written: “I believe firmly that I was appointed on merit, which the Cabinet Office have also confirmed.”
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