The BBC chairman’s position is untenable, opposition parties have said after a scathing report from MPs about his role in securing an £800,000 loan for Boris Johnson.
The culture committee found Richard Sharp guilty of “significant errors of judgement” in failing to disclose his role in facilitating the credit line for Mr Johnson before he was appointed BBC chairman by the then Prime Minister. This week the BBC chairman was recalled to appear before the committee and the report was published on Sunday.
Lisa Nandy, the shadow secretary, said Mr Sharp’s position was “increasingly untenable”, suggesting he should go if he couldn’t explain himself during an internal BBC investigation.
“It’s getting harder and harder to see how Richard Sharp can continue to play that role,” she told Sky News. “If questions can’t be answered, I think the integrity of the BBC is much more important than one person’s position,” she said.
SNP MP John Nicolson – who sits on the cross-party Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee (DCMS), which drafted the report – said he did not see “how to move forward”, and suggested that Rishi’s government Sunak should act now to remove him.
He told the BBC Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg“He’s lost the trust of the BBC staff, that’s very clear – I’ve been inundated with reports from BBC staff that they don’t see how he can run the BBC anymore.”
“We knew he was a big Tory donor… but what he didn’t tell us was that he had facilitated a £800,000 loan for Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister, who then gave him the job – it’s all a bit of a banana republic .” added Mr. Nicolson.
Mr Nicholson also told Sky News’ Sophie Ridge on Sunday: “I don’t see how he can go on. How can he plead the BBC’s case, how can he talk about impartiality, given that he has withheld this vital information from us and given the low level of trust he now enjoys among BBC staff?
“The report I think is quite brutal,” he added, saying that Mr Sharp “has broken the rules… The rules say very clearly that if you apply for a government job like this, you are completely must be open about any conflict of interest.”
Mr Sharp’s failure to tell the DCMS about his meeting with Mr Johnson and Sam Blyth, a distant cousin, who supported the line of credit for Mr Johnson, meant that MPs did not properly assess his suitability for the BBC role. could investigate, the report said.
The report’s humiliating judgment that he should “consider the impact of his omissions” on confidence in the BBC and his own appointment is likely to make it difficult for him to continue.
Andrew Mitchell, a Conservative minister and veteran MP, said decisions on Mr Sharp’s future are “a matter for the BBC” at the end of an internal inquiry and a separate inquiry by the office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments.
But challenged by Laura Kuenssberg that it was ultimately up to the government to appoint and dismiss BBC chairmen, Mitchell insisted it was “largely” a matter for the BBC board to make a recommendation on its future to the government.
Mr Nicolson said the government already has the information it needs to decide whether to ask Mr Sharp to resign. “What are the ministers waiting for? What information do they not have? The facts are obvious.”
Mr Sharp admitted to arranging a meeting between Mr Johnson and Mr Blyth but denied giving any financial advice. A spokesman for Mr Sharp said he “regrets” not telling MPs about his involvement with Mr Blyth “and apologises”.
The DCMS said there was an “unresolved issue” as to why Simon Case, the cabinet secretary, believed Mr Sharp had given financial advice to Mr Johnson, despite Mr Sharp’s denial that it amounted to advice. They called on the Cabinet Office to “clear up the confusion”.
Former culture minister Lord Vaizey said Mr Sharp’s actions were not a “hanging offence”. The Tory colleague told BBC Radio 4 Broadcast house: “You can admit it’s a blunder without saying it’s a violation.”
On whether Mr Sharp’s position was untenable, Mr Mitchell said: “We shouldn’t rush to judgment on that, we should let this process come to an end. And then ultimately it’s a matter for the BBC, of which he is the chairman, to make a final decision.”
Deputy Liberal Democrat leader Daisy Cooper said Mr Johnson “must now also face the music and answer questions from an independent inquiry” – and called on Mr Sunak to ask his ethics adviser to look into the matter.
The report put further pressure on Mr Johnson after it emerged that the Met Police had been asked to reopen its Partygate investigation.
The deputy chairman of the London Assembly’s Police and Crime Committee has written to the Met Commissioner, Mark Rowley, asking if he “takes new information into account when making a decision on reopening the investigation”.
It follows details released by an ITV podcast claiming Downing Street staff confirmed this before completing questionnaires and that 10 officials destroyed evidence before it could investigate the Sue Gray inquiry.