Another week, another resignation? Fetch the lettuce!

BBC boss in ‘Cash for Boris’ row guilty of hiding his role, says inquiry

The reputation of the chair of the BBC was severely damaged last night after a damning report by MPs on his role in the “cash for Boris” row.

Matt Mathers 

Richard Sharp’s hopes of surviving the scandal appeared doomed after a Commons committee branded him guilty of “significant errors of judgement” by failing to declare his role in facilitating an £800,000 loan for Boris Johnson. The report stopped short of asking him to resign.

But its humiliating verdict that he should “consider the impact of his omissions” on trust in the BBC, and his own appointment, is likely to make it impossible for him to continue, effectively finding the BBC chair guilty of serious misjudgement.

MPs said the actions of Mr Sharp, a former Goldman Sachs investment banker and significant Conservative Party donor, constituted “a breach of the standards expected of individuals” applying for prominent public appointments.

The MPs added that Mr Johnson, the then-prime minister, was “fully aware” of a potential conflict after his government backed the man who helped arrange his loan as the chair of the BBC.

They say that future governments must ensure appointments to prestigious positions are not “clouded” in the same way again.

And they warn: “The public appointments process can only work effectively if all those involved are open and transparent.”

Labour claimed that “Conservatives’ cronyism is dragging down the BBC”, while the Lib Dems called for an independent inquiry into Mr Johnson’s actions, calling for the ex-PM to “face the music”.

The report piled further pressure on Mr Johnson after it was revealed the Met Police has been asked to reopen its Partygate investigation.

The deputy chair of the London Assembly’s Police and Crime Committee has written to the Met commissioner, Mark Rowley, asking if he was “taking new information into account when making a decision regarding the reopening of the investigation”, The Guardian reports.

New details were released by an ITV podcast claiming Downing Street staff corroborated before filling out questionnaires and No 10 officials destroyed evidence before the Sue Gray inquiry could investigate.

Mr Johnson is set to appear before parliament’s privileges committee next month and whistleblowers are said to be hesitant about being part of the investigation after being told they should not expect anonymity.

Mr Sharp’s failure to tell the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee (DCMS) about his meeting with Mr Johnson and Sam Blyth, who backed the line of credit for Mr Johnson, meant that MPs were “left without the full facts” and unable to properly scrutinise his suitability for the role, the report said.

Mr Sharp admitted to the Cabinet Office that he set up a meeting between Mr Johnson and Mr Blyth but denied giving any financial advice.

A spokesperson for Mr Sharp said he “regrets” not telling MPs about his involvement with Mr Blyth “and apologises”.

Damian Green, the Conservative MP and acting chair of the DCMS committee, 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 judgement 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.”

Mr Sharp was named as the government’s preferred candidate for the BBC in January 2021 and he had the backing of the DCMS committee, which at that point was not aware of his meeting with Mr Johnson and Mr Blyth.

The MPs said there was an “unresolved issue” as to why Simon Case, the cabinet secretary, believed Mr Sharp had himself been giving financial advice to Mr Johnson. They called on the Cabinet Office to “clear up the confusion”.

Mr Sharp was called back to the committee on 7 February this year following The Sunday Times’s revelations about his role in facilitating the loan for Mr Johnson.

He said that Mr Blyth’s offer of help for the then-prime minister was made in September 2020 and he had stressed the need for things to be done “by the book”.

Following the launch of the recruitment process for the BBC chair role, Mr Blyth contacted Mr Sharp to request an introduction to the cabinet secretary to ensure due process was followed.

Mr Sharp told the MPs that he met Mr Johnson before going to see Mr Case and informed him that he would be telling the cabinet secretary about Mr Blyth’s offer of financial assistance.

Mr Sharp met Mr Case in December 2020, at which point he “agreed no further participation” in relation to the financial support, in order to avoid any conflict of interest or perception of conflict given his application, the report said.

Mr Sharp told the MPs that as far as he was concerned, that meant “the matter had been resolved”.

In their new report, the MPs said: “Mr Sharp recognised the need to be open and transparent over facilitating an introduction of the then-prime minister to Mr Blyth regarding the £800,000 loan guarantee and brought this to the attention of the cabinet secretary.

“However, he failed to apply the same standards of openness and candour in his decision not to divulge this information during the interview process or to this committee during the pre-appointment hearing.”

A spokesperson for Mr Sharp said the BBC chair “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,” the spokesperson said.

The spokesperson said Mr Sharp was never involved in the arrangement of a loan between Mr Blyth and Mr Johnson and had not offered financial advice to the then-prime minister.