BBC chairman Richard Sharp is facing calls to resign after MPs found he made “significant errors of judgement” by acting as an intermediary for a loan guarantee for Boris Johnson.
A cross-party committee was furious that Mr Sharp failed to announce to MPs his role in facilitating the deal when he was applying for the post of BBC chairman and said he should “consider the impact which will have its shortcomings” on the broadcaster’s trust.
They said his actions amounted to a “breach of the standards expected of individuals” when applying for prominent public appointments.
Mr Sharp did not arrange the loan but admitted to bringing his friend Sam Blyth, a cousin of Mr Johnson’s who was trying to help the then prime minister with his financial troubles, into the Cabinet Office .
A spokesman for Mr Sharp said he “regrets” not telling MPs about his involvement with Mr Blyth “and he apologises”.
But Labor and SNP politicians suggested Mr Sharp’s position was indefensible, and a Government minister said it was up to the BBC to decide his fate.
Mr Sharp was named as the preferred candidate for the BBC job in January 2021 and the MPs’ Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee supported his appointment but were crucially unaware of his role in relation to the £800,000 loan guarantee to facilitate.
In a strongly-worded report they now suggested that Mr Sharp’s failure to come clean could damage the BBC.
“The decisions made by Richard Sharp were significant, first to be involved in loan facilitation for the prime minister at the time and at the same time applying for a position that was a gift from that same person, and then without the relation to disclose that material. errors of judgement, which undermine confidence in the public appointment process and may discourage qualified people from applying for such positions,” said the MPs.
The committee concluded: “Mr Sharp should consider the impact of his failings on confidence in him, the BBC and the public appointment process.”
SNP MP John Nicolson, who sits on the Commons committee, said Mr Sharp’s position was now “extremely difficult”.
He told BBC Sunday’s Laura Kuenssberg: “He’s lost the confidence of the BBC staff, that’s very clear, I’ve been shocked by messages from the BBC staff saying they don’t see how he can lead the BBC bigger.”
He said the situation was “a total banana republic”.
Shadow Cabinet Secretary Lisa Nandy said Mr Sharp’s position was “increasingly untenable”.
The shadow secretary told Sky News: “It’s becoming increasingly difficult to see how Richard Sharp can continue in that role.”
Shadow culture secretary Lucy Powell said the incident “casts serious doubt on the impartiality and independence which is so fundamental to trust in the BBC”.
Government Minister Andrew Mitchell said the BBC’s board would have to take a decision once a further investigation, ordered by the Commissioner for Public Appointments, had concluded.
“We need to be fair to all parties in this, including Richard Sharp,” he told the BBC.
Stating that it was a decision for the Government, not the BBC, Mr Mitchell said: “The BBC is not a silent part of all this, the BBC board will have to think about what it has said and find its their own conclusions. .
“I think the Government will respond appropriately to that.”
Former culture minister Lord Vaizey defended Mr Sharp, saying: “You can admit it’s a mistake without saying it’s a hanging offence.”
He told BBC Radio 4 Broadcasting House: “The report doesn’t say he should quit. It is an understatement to say that Richard Sharp arranged a loan for Boris Johnson.”
Mr Blyth’s offer of help to the then prime minister was made in September 2020 and Mr Sharp said he stressed the need to do things “by the book”.
Following the launch of the recruitment process for the role of BBC chairman, Mr Blyth approached Mr Sharp to ask for an introduction to Cabinet Secretary Simon Case.
Mr Sharp 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 with Mr Case in December 2020, at which point he “did not agree to any further involvement” in relation to the financial support, to avoid any conflict of interest or perception of conflict in light of his request, the report.
A spokesman for Mr Sharp said the BBC chairman “appreciated that there was information that the committee felt he should have been informed of in his pre-appointment hearing”.
“He regrets this and apologizes,” the spokesman said.
“The view at the time was to ensure that the rules were followed, and in the view that this had been achieved, Mr Sharp acted in good faith as he did.”
“At that meeting, and afterwards, the Cabinet Office did not suggest that the act of linking Mr Blyth with Mr Case was something that should be announced, and it was expressly agreed that he would not be a party to the matter in the future he would be a party. to be excluded from any conflict.”
The spokesman said Mr Sharp would like to “once again apologize to the wonderful BBC staff for the distraction he has caused”.