The BBC chairman’s position is becoming “increasingly untenable” after a committee of MPs found he made “significant errors of judgement” by facilitating a loan guarantee for Boris Johnson, a frontbench Labour MP has said.
Lisa Nandy made the remarks on Sky News after it emerged Richard Sharp, who helped Mr Johnson secure an £800,000 loan, failed to declare his role as a go-between for the then-prime minister when applying for the chairman’s job.
The cross-party Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee has said in a report that Mr Sharp should “consider the impact his omissions will have” on public trust in the broadcaster.
The committee also said his actions “constitute a breach of the standards expected of individuals” applying for prominent public appointments.
The same committee backed Mr Sharp’s appointment to the chairman’s job in January 2021 but was not aware of his role in facilitating the loan.
Committee report is a ‘really serious development’
Ms Nandy, the shadow levelling up secretary, told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme that the government had “relied on the defence” that the committee had approved the appointment of Mr Sharp as BBC chair.
She continued: “But the committee today is saying that actually, had they known about (the loan), it would have been a very different situation.
“This information was not disclosed to them prior to approving that appointment.”
Speaking about the findings in the report, Ms Nandy said: “It is a really serious development and it makes Richard Sharp’s position look increasingly untenable.”
She added: “I think it’s difficult to see how Richard Sharp could possibly stay in the position that he’s in, given the far reaching implications for the reputation of the BBC and the implications for trust in journalism.”
Ms Nandy’s comments came after the Conservative Party’s development minister Andrew Mitchell said the report’s findings are a “matter for the BBC”.
“I think Damian Green (acting chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee) is a very senior member of the House of Commons and what he and his committee says matters,” he said.
“But I think, as I say, this is really something which the public appointments commissioner must look at and we must wait for his judgement. And above all, of course, it’s a matter for the judgement of the BBC.”
Sharp claims he ‘acted in good faith’
Mr Sharp has said he didn’t arrange the loan but admitted introducing his friend Sam Blyth, a cousin of Mr Johnson who wanted to help the then-PM, to the Cabinet Office.
A spokesperson for Mr Sharp said he “regrets” not telling MPs about his association with Mr Blyth “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,” the spokesperson said.
Boris Johnson becoming highest-earning MP this parliament
It’s hard to see how Sharp survives this sleazy aftershock of Johnson’s time in office
Of the three investigations launched into Richard Sharp’s appointment, this was always the one least likely to prove fatal for his position as BBC chair.
That’s simply because the other inquiries are being run by Whitehall’s official regulator for appointments and the BBC itself.
If the findings from either of those two are anywhere near as critical as this committee report, it’s hard to see how Mr Sharp survives in post.
That’s because the BBC chair really needs to carry the confidence of the government and the corporation to execute the role.
It’s a wholly unwelcome development for BBC employees who have felt increasingly under siege in recent years from a mix of budget cuts, mass redundancies and accusations of political bias.
Given Richard Sharp himself has said the BBC has a “liberal bias”, the fact he has dragged the corporation into this row is particularly grating for many.
But despite this being another example of a somewhat sleazy aftershock of Boris Johnson’s time in office, it’s an unideal situation for Rishi Sunak too.
The prime minister used to work for Richard Sharp at Goldman Sachs, adding to the sense this is all a symptom of a cosy and monied establishment looking after itself.
In its strongly-worded report on the matter, the committee said: “Richard Sharp’s decisions, firstly to become involved in the facilitation of a loan to the then-prime minister while at the same time applying for a job that was in that same person’s gift, and then to fail to disclose this material relationship, were significant errors of judgement, which undermine confidence in the public appointments process and could deter qualified individuals from applying for such posts.”
The MPs continued: “Mr Sharp should consider the impact his omissions will have on trust in him, the BBC and the public appointments process.”
A Cabinet Office spokesperson said: “The Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments is reviewing the competition to ensure the process was run in compliance with the rules and we will await the outcome.”