Richard Sharp, the chair of the BBC, is under new pressure to quit after MPs ruled he made “significant errors of judgment” in failing to declare his role in arranging an £800,000 loan to former premier Boris Johnson.
The reprimand by MPs leaves Sharp in a precarious position, with Labour saying his position was “increasingly untenable” and warning that he had undermined trust in the BBC’s impartiality.
Sharp was named as the government’s choice to chair the BBC in January 2021, but although it was a political appointment, ministers are trying to wash their hands of the affair.
Andrew Mitchell, development minister, told the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg on Sunday that it was “largely a matter for the board of the BBC” to make a recommendation on what should happen next.
Mitchell said people should wait for a review of Sharp’s appointment by an independent lawyer before drawing final conclusions. Labour said Sharp was a political appointment and ministers should take responsibility.
Sharp was strongly rebuked by the Commons culture, media and sport committee in a report published on Sunday, which criticised him for failing to declare his role in facilitating a loan to Johnson.
The committee, chaired by former cabinet minister Damian Green, said Sharp should reflect on the potential damage caused to trust in the BBC.
The MPs said his failure to discuss his role in arranging the £800,000 loan prevented the committee from properly fulfilling its scrutiny role at a pre-appointment hearing in January 2021.
The committee’s report said it is “highly unsatisfactory” that the committee’s subsequent approval of Sharp’s appointment has been cited by the government as a defence that the process was properly followed.
Green 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.”
Sharp, a former Goldman Sachs banker, has denied any wrongdoing and said he had not facilitated any financing for Johnson; a loan guarantee for £800,000 was provided by Sam Blyth, a businessman and distant relative of Johnson.
Sharp said he put Blyth, who had approached him with a view to assisting Johnson, in touch with Simon Case, the cabinet secretary and the UK’s most senior civil servant, but only to ensure “due process was followed”.
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.”
The spokesperson added: “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 Mr Case, he recused himself from the matter.”
Lucy Powell, shadow culture secretary, said: “This is a damning report which makes the BBC Chair’s position increasingly untenable because it throws into serious doubt the impartiality and independence that is so fundamental to trust in the BBC.
“The Conservatives’ cronyism is dragging down the BBC when we should be building it up as a cornerstone of our creative economy.”