THERE are calls for an independent inquiry into claims banker Richard Sharp helped arrange a guarantee on a loan of up to £800,000 for Boris Johnson just weeks before the then prime minister put him forward to be the Chairman of the BBC.

According to the Sunday Times, late in 2020, the ousted Tory leader was struggling financially as he faced divorce payments, childcare costs and bills for the refurbishment of his Downing Street flat. 

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Mr Sharp, who has given £400,000 to the Conservative Party, became involved in the November of that year after a dinner at the home of Sam Blyth, a multimillionaire Canadian businessman and distant cousin of Mr Johnson.

He is said to have raised the idea of acting as the PM’s guarantor and asked Mr Sharp for advice on the best way forward.

Mr Sharp agreed to help and in the first week of December, he arrived at Downing Street to discuss the matter with Simon Case, the cabinet secretary and head of the civil service. 

HeraldScotland:

Before the loan was finalised, Mr Johnson, Mr Sharp and Mr Blyth had a private dinner at Chequers.

In late December, the Cabinet Office propriety and ethics team wrote a formal letter telling Mr Johnson to stop seeking Mr Sharp’s advice about his personal finances, given the forthcoming BBC appointment.

By then, Mr Johnson had already selected Mr Sharp as his preferred candidate and, days later, on January 6, 2021, Oliver Dowden, who was then culture secretary, announced him as the government’s choice for the £160,000-a-year role.

Mr Sharp did not disclose his involvement in Johnson’s finances to the BBC, or to a pre-appointment hearing before a House of Commons select committee in February 2021.

Mr Johnson declared Mr Blyth’s guarantorship of the £800,000 internally in March 2021. 

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The existence of the loan was never disclosed on the public version of the register as officials felt it was a personal benefit from a cousin, and therefore did not pose a potential conflict of interest or meet the threshold for being a “relevant” interest.

A BBC spokesman said: “The BBC plays no role in the recruitment of the chair and any questions are a matter for the government.”

Mr Sharp said: “There is not a conflict when I simply connected, at his request, Mr Blyth with the cabinet secretary and had no further involvement whatsoever.”

A spokesman for Mr Johnson told The Times: “This is rubbish. Richard Sharp has never given any financial advice to Boris Johnson, nor has Mr Johnson sought any financial advice from him.

"There has never been any remuneration or compensation to Mr Sharp from Boris Johnson for this or any other service.

“Mr Johnson did indeed have dinner with Mr Sharp, whom he has known for almost 20 years, and with his cousin. So what? Big deal.

"All Mr Johnson’s financial arrangements have been properly declared and registered on the advice of officials.”

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The SNP’s Kirsty Blackman called for a full probe into the arrangement. 

She said the reports reeked of “Tory sleaze.”

The Aberdeen North MP said: "The UK government must establish an independent inquiry to assess the circumstances of this loan, the propriety of the arrangement, the ethics of the appointment, and whether any rules were broken by Boris Johnson, the UK government or the BBC Chairman.

"Many people will have serious concerns about the existence of this loan, the circumstances of arranging it, and the increasingly close relationship between the Tory government and senior management at the BBC. This murky arrangement stinks to high heaven.

"Sunlight is the best disinfectant, and the public has a right to know what happened. With Westminster engulfed in one Tory sleaze scandal after another, many people in Scotland will conclude the whole system is rotten and only independence can offer the fresh start we need."

Labour’s Shadow Treasury minister Pat McFadden told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge On Sunday programme: “I feel more than the individual cases, this is really corrosive to governance and government, there are big problems facing the country.

“We need good government. I think it’d be a tragedy if the result of all this was for people to just simply turn away from politics and say, ‘they’re all a bunch of crooks and thieves’.”

Asked whether he thinks the BBC is impartial, Mr McFadden said: “Look, I’m not here to report for the BBC. I do think it’s pretty extraordinary if someone who is running to be the chairman ends up acting as a broker to help the prime minister of the day of whatever financial difficulties he was in.

“At the very least, that should all have been declared and brought into the open. There’s nothing in Boris Johnson’s declaration of interest as an MP about this. It’s been brought into the open by journalism, not by people being transparent, and that’s why I do think this does need to be looked at.”

Foreign Secretary James Cleverly has said that, as far as he can see, Mr Sharp’s appointment as BBC chair was made on his merits.

He told Sky News: “Well, I’ve not had a conversation with either of those parties about that, about that situation.

“I have met with Richard, we discussed the (BBC) World Service, he struck me as an incredibly competent, experienced, thoughtful individual. I can see exactly why he has the attributes, both personal, professional, to be the chair of the BBC.

“So, as far as I can see, his appointment was made on those merits.”

He added: “The fact of the matter is that Richard is undoubtedly an incredibly experienced individual, steps into this role with, as I say, both personal, professional attributes, which qualify him for the job.

“We’ve had senior people in the BBC who have political affiliations, most people have political affiliations, a number of them are active, so it’s not at all unusual to have individuals in the senior levels of the BBC.”