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BBC Chairman Denies Ever Giving Boris Johnson Financial Advice

BBC Chairman Richard Sharp was grilled by the DCMS committee on Tuesday (parliamentlive.tv)

3 min read

Richard Sharp has admitted he met with then-prime minister Boris Johnson to discuss his intention to apply for the role of BBC chairman, but insisted he did not directly give Johnson financial advice.

Sharp was scrutinised by the Commons Digital, Media, Culture and Sport committee on Tuesday morning about his involvement in Johnson’s financial affairs. 

The BBC chairman previously worked as a banker for Goldman Sachs, and was being challenged over a potential conflict of interest when he introduced his friend Sam Blyth to Cabinet Secretary Simon Case to discuss whether Blyth could be a guarantor for a loan for the prime minister. 

Sharp’s selection is now under investigation by the public appointments watchdog and the BBC board’s nominations committee.

He told the DCMS committee: “When I met the prime minister and told him I wanted to apply to be chair of the BBC, at that point, I hadn’t heard from Mr Blyth asking me to put him in touch with Mr Case.” 

The loan in question was for a sum of up to £800,000, which Sharp said he was never aware of. 

The BBC chairman did not disclose the discussion he had with Blyth with the appointment panels in his application for the role. 

When asked about where he was in the BBC appointment process when discussions with Blyth took place, Sharp said he had been working in Downing Street anyway at that time on Covid projects, and that he thought he “could help ensure that the process was followed”.

The committee asks candidates about any potential conflicts of interest with their potential independence as BBC chair, which would have been the opportunity for Sharp to disclose the information.

At Tuesday's panel, the committee raised a cabinet office note from Case to Johnson when the announcement of Sharp’s appointment as BBC chair was imminent, which said: “It is important that you no longer ask his advice about your personal financial assets.”

However, Sharp said this phrasing was “an ambiguous construction that is open to misinterpretation".

“I've never given financial advice to the former prime minister,” Sharp said. “He's never asked for it. He never received it from me.”

Sharp told the committee that Blyth had raised that he was interested in assisting Johnson with his finances at a “private dinner” and that Sharp had advised Blyth to involve the cabinet secretary and that “things need to be done by the book” - despite Blyth being a distant cousin to Johnson.

Johnson told Sky News in January: "Richard Sharp knew absolutely nothing about my finances, I can tell you that for 100 per cent ding-dang sure."

The BBC chair has said he will not quit over the allegations, and defended his position to the committee by arguing he has made a “significant contribution” to the BBC in his time there so far. 

“I'm disturbed by the fact that all the tremendous things that the BBC is doing should anyway be overshadowed by this,” he said. 

“I believe that I was appointed on merit, I believe that the due processes were followed. And I believe [the investigation] will find that out.”

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