ITV News Political Correspondent Romilly Weeks has the latest from Westminster where two key figures close to the prime minister are giving him plenty of headaches
BBC chairman Richard Sharp will be grilled by MPs next month, following the disclosure that he helped then prime minister Boris Johnson to secure a loan of up to £800,000.
Mr Sharp has said that he believed his selection process was conducted “by the book” and denied he had misled the advisory panel or MPs on the Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee when he appeared before them.
He will appear again before the same committee on February 7 to face questions, with acting chairman Damian Green writing to Mr Sharp on Tuesday to invite him to attend.
The former banker has been facing calls to stand down after it emerged that in late 2020 he had introduced his friend Sam Blyth to the Cabinet Secretary Simon Case to discuss whether Mr Blyth could act as a guarantor for a loan facility for Mr Johnson.
'G'day, G'day, G'day,' Boris Johnson replied when reporters asked if he had any response to Richard Sharp's latest comments
On Monday, public appointments commissioner William Shawcross announced he is to investigate Mr Sharp’s appointment as BBC chairman in February 2021 to ensure the process was conducted “fairly, openly and on merit”.
In an interview with BBC News, Mr Sharp said he was “comfortable” with the way the process had been carried out.
“Having had a discussion with the Cabinet Secretary about avoiding conflict, and the perception of conflict, I felt comfortable and I still feel there was no conflict because at that stage what I was seeking to do was ensure that the process was followed exactly by the book, and that the process hadn’t started, of any kind, in terms of any support that Sam [Blyth] was going to provide to the prime minister,” he said.
“I had clarified and agreed with the Cabinet Secretary, both of us had the judgment that I’d avoided a conflict or a perception of conflict."
Asked in the interview why he agreed to approach Mr Case on behalf of Mr Blyth, the former banker said he was working in No 10 at the time as an economic adviser during the pandemic.
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He added: "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…".
Mr Sharp insisted he had been appointed on merit and it was not an example of “cronyism”.
“The point you raise about cronyism is ‘was the appointment itself on merit or was it in any way distorted?’. I believe it was on merit and I welcome the examination by (public appointments commissioner) William Shawcross," he said.
On Tuesday, Home Office minister Chris Philp told broadcasters the process of appointing Mr Sharp was run according to "due process", adding the appointment was also ratified by the DCMS's cross-party committee.
Mr Sharp, a former Goldman Sachs banker, was announced as the government’s choice for the BBC role in January 2021.
A spokesperson for Mr Johnson has insisted his financial arrangements “have been properly declared”.
“Richard Sharp has never given any financial advice to Boris Johnson, nor has Mr Johnson sought any financial advice from him,” the spokesman said.
The Liberal Democrats said the £115,000 allowance for Mr Johnson to run his office as ex-prime minister should be withdrawn until he answers questions about his financial arrangements.
Labour, meanwhile, is calling for a parliamentary investigation into claims the chairman of the BBC helped Mr Johnson secure a loan guarantee.
The Boris Johnson loan row is heaping pressure on Rishi Sunak as he is being criticised for not sacking Tory party chairman Nadhim Zahawi over his tax affairs.
The PM on Monday ordered a potentially far-reaching ethics investigation into Mr Zahawi but resisted calls to sack the former chancellor over the multimillion-pound tax dispute he resolved by paying a penalty.
ITV News revealed earlier this week that the government’s propriety and ethics team raised the issue of Mr Zahawi’s tax affairs directly with Mr Johnson before he was appointed as chancellor.
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