BBC chairman Richard Sharp has denied facilitating a loan of up to £800,000 (€895,000) for Boris Johnson before the then-prime minister backed his appointment to lead the broadcaster.
In a bruising grilling by MPs, Mr Sharp insisted that he “didn’t arrange the loan” despite admitting that he introduced his friend Sam Blyth, who wanted to help the then-prime minister with his financial troubles, to the UK Cabinet Office.
The former Goldman Sachs banker said he regretted causing “embarrassment for the BBC”, but showed no remorse about withholding information about his involvement in the matter from the Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee while he was in the running for the BBC post.
Hauled in front of the committee again on Tuesday, Mr Sharp conceded that he acted as a “sort of introduction agency” when arranging a meeting between Mr Blyth and Cabinet secretary Simon Case.
“As a go-between I was not between Mr Blyth and Mr Johnson, but I was actually seeking to ensure that due process was followed by ensuring that Mr Blyth had contact with the Cabinet Office before he would do anything to help his cousin,” he added.
Mr Sharp said he then raised with Mr Case “the fact that I’d submitted my application to be the chair of the BBC and that therefore to avoid a conflict, or perception of conflict, I could have – and we agreed – no further participation in whatever transpired whatsoever, and I didn’t.”
Mr Sharp admitted that he went to see Mr Johnson to discuss the BBC chairmanship before he applied, but insisted their relationship was “broadly professional”.
On Tuesday we will question Richard Sharp, Chairman of @BBC, following recent media reports about his appointment.
Watch live from 10am: https://t.co/ZTWkTYbo8I
Find out more about the hearing: https://t.co/GrdPwakIw9 pic.twitter.com/xEm4DEyot8
— Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee (@CommonsDCMS) February 6, 2023
At this point he considered his conversation with Mr Blyth about potentially supporting the then-prime minister financially “an after-dinner party comment” and “had no knowledge at that point that Mr Blyth was doing anything to take anything further forward”, Mr Sharp said.
“I did not provide and have not provided the former prime minister personal financial advice, I know nothing about his (financial) affairs, I never have done,” he said.
“I didn’t facilitate a loan…
“I’ve nothing to do with it whatsoever, I’m not party to anything that then happened or didn’t happen.
“I’ve no knowledge of a bank, I’ve no knowledge of the actual loan.”
The BBC chairman was accused by MP Kevin Brennan of a “monumental failure of judgment” in failing to tell the DCMS committee about the arrangement at his pre-appointment hearing in January 2021.
Asked whether he regretted not doing so, Mr Sharp said: “Obviously I regret this situation.”
Pressed further, he said that he “took comfort” from having raised his application for the BBC role during his meeting with Mr Case.
He denied seeking to hide his involvement because he thought it would never come to light.
The BBC chairman said: “It’s manifest that this has cause embarrassment for the BBC and I regret that.”
He said that while he wished “we weren’t where we are now”, “I acted in good faith to ensure that the rules were followed and in that sense I have no regret for that”.
He declined to say whether he would resign if an investigation by the public appointments watchdog criticises him for withholding information.
He told MPs he would “need to see what the inquiry produces” and insisted he was “subject to a very rigorous interview process” and was hired “on merit”.
Mr Sharp also accused the press of “mischaracterising” and spreading “significant inaccuracies” about his involvement, including BBC journalists who were “guilty” of “repeating inaccuracies” from other outlets.