Richard Sharp has insisted he had no conflict of interest when he was appointed the chair of the BBC by Boris Johnson, despite allegations he helped secure a loan of up to £800,000 for the prime minister only a week earlier.
The BBC chair said on Tuesday he was confident he was given the job in 2021 “on merit” and said he would not step down.
His comments came after the Sunday Times revealed that during the application process, Sharp had introduced his friend Sam Blyth, who was proposing to guarantee a loan to Johnson, to the cabinet secretary, Simon Case.
Sharp told the BBC in an interview: “Having had a discussion with the cabinet secretary about avoiding a conflict – and the perception of conflict – I felt comfortable – and I still feel – there was no conflict.
“At that stage what I was seeking to do was to ensure the process was followed exactly by the book. The process hadn’t started, of any kind, in terms of any support that Sam [Blyth] was going to provide to the prime minister.”
Sharp said he was not involved in any discussions over the prime minister’s finances, and that when he approached Case in 2020 to tell him of Blyth’s offer to guarantee a loan for a prime minister, it was agreed that he should play no further part in those negotiations.
He said he had agreed to approach Case on Blyth’s behalf because he was working in Downing Street at the time as an economic adviser.
“With the benefit of hindsight, particularly at that time, I might have said ‘do it yourself’ but I was working in Downing Street at the time,” he said.
Sharp was speaking after two days of allegations about his involvement with Johnson’s £800,000 loan. Those allegations have sparked an inquiry by William Shawcross, the commissioner for public appointments, into how he got the job as chair of the BBC. Sharp said on Tuesday he welcomed that investigation.
Meanwhile, Sharp himself has asked the BBC nominations committee, which includes the director general, Tim Davie, and the corporation’s senior independent director, Nicholas Serota, to investigate whether there has been any conflict of interest since he joined as chair in 2021. The board has no powers to block or oust a BBC chair.
On Tuesday, Diane Coyle, a former acting chair of the BBC Trust, said she had applied for the job in 2021 but had not been shortlisted, with no explanation as to why.
She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that Sharp had shown “poor judgement” by involving himself in the discussions over the loan and warned that it would undermine the ability of BBC journalists to do their jobs.