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BBC Chair Made "Significant Errors Of Judgement" Over Boris Johnson Loan, MPs Say

3 min read

BBC Chair Richard Sharp made "significant errors of judgement" over his role in the facilitation of a loan to former prime minister Boris Johnson, MPs on the DCMS committee have concluded, in a report which calls on him to "consider the potential damage to trust" in the corporation caused by the affair.

In January the Sunday Times reported that Sharp helped Johnson secure an £800,000 loan weeks before he was announced as BBC chairman, by connecting cabinet secretary Simon Case with Sam Blyth, a Canadian businessman and distant cousin of the then-PM. 

In a report, published today, the DCMS Committee says that Sharp's failure to inform MPs of his involvement in the loan meant they were left without the full facts to make a judgement on his suitability when he appeared before them for a pre-appointment hearing in 2021.

Acting chair of the committee, Damian Green MP said: “The public appointments process can only work effectively if everyone is open and transparent, yet Richard Sharp chose not to tell either the appointment panel or our Committee about his involvement in the facilitation of a loan to Boris Johnson. Such a significant error of judgment meant we were not in the full possession of the facts when we were required to rule on his suitability for the role of BBC Chair.”

A spokesperson for Sharp said: “Mr Sharp appreciates that there was information that the Committee felt that it should have been made aware of in his pre-appointment hearing. He regrets this and apologises.

"It was in seeking at the time to ensure that the rules were followed, and in the belief that this had been achieved, that Mr Sharp acted in good faith in the way he did.

"Mr Sharp believed he had dealt with the issue by proactively briefing the Cabinet Secretary that he was applying for the role of BBC Chair, and therefore beyond connecting Mr Blyth with [Simon Case], he recused himself from the matter."

They added that Sharp was not told at this meeting that he needed to declare that he had connnected the pair, and that it was "explicitly agreed that by not being party to the matter going forward he would be excluded from any conflict."

A Cabinet Office memo leaked in January showed that Johnson was warned by Case in December 2020 to stop speaking to Sharp about his “personal financial matters”. The report says the question of why Case believed Sharp had been giving financial advice to Johnson – which Sharp denies – remains unresolved, and calls on the Cabinet Office to clear up the confusion. 

Sharp's spokesperson said he was not involved in the arrangement of the loan to Johnson, adding that his role had been "misconstrued" as a result of "inaccurate reports in recent weeks that he had offered financial advice to Mr Johnson, or arranged financing, which he had not."

The MPs call on Sharp to "consider the impact his actions will have on the trust in him, the BBC and the public appointment process". Two other reports on the matter have yet to be published. Adam Heppinstall KC is overseeing an investigation on behalf of William Shawcross, the commissioner for public appointments, after he recused himself because he had met Sharp on "previous occasions",  while a separate review on behalf of the BBC board’s nominations committee is being led by Sir Nicholas Serota.

The report follows a committee hearing with Sharp last Tuesday. It describes the government's defence of his appointment – the fact the committee subsequently approved it – as "highly unsatisfactory" and calls for "the government and all those involved to ensure future processes are not clouded by partial disclosure."

Sharp's spokesperson said: "Mr Sharp would like to apologise again to the BBC’s brilliant staff given the distraction it has caused. He is proud of the work the board has done driving positive change at the BBC over the last two years, and very much looks forward to continuing that work. In addition, he looks forward to the conclusions of the independent report chaired by Adam Heppinstall KC."

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