Commissioner quits investigation into BBC chairman's appointment

William Shawcross - Dominic Lipinski/PA
William Shawcross - Dominic Lipinski/PA

The official investigation into Boris Johnson’s controversial loan was thrown into chaos on Monday night after the man leading it was forced to withdraw after revealing he had met one of the key figures involved “on previous occasions”.

William Shawcross, the public appointments commissioner, said he was recusing himself as he had met Richard Sharp, the chairman of the BBC, in the past.

He announced a week ago that he would conduct an inquiry into Mr Sharp’s appointment at the BBC following reports that Mr Sharp had helped Mr Johnson, then prime minister, secure a loan facility of up to £800,000 shortly before being given the post.

In a letter to the head of the Commons culture select committee, Mr Shawcross said: “As I have met Mr Sharp on previous occasions, I have decided to recuse myself from this particular investigation.

"I will be delegating my powers as commissioner under the 2019 Order in Council to an independent person who will be appointed by my office for this one investigation.

"They will have sole responsibility and will be supported by my officials."

'Realise a conflict of interest'

He added that he will continue with all his other regulatory functions as commissioner.

Lucy Powell, Labour's shadow culture secretary, said: "It's taken him a week to realise a conflict of interest, sharing these cosy relationships.

"The truth must come out about this appointment."

Mr Shawcross – who was recommended by Mr Johnson in his role as commissioner for public appointments – is also the father of Eleanor Shawcross, head of No 10's policy unit.

Mr Sharp is due to be grilled by MPs on the culture select committee next week over evidence he gave at a pre-appointment hearing.

The former banker had already been facing calls to stand down after it emerged that, in late 2020, he had introduced Sam Blyth to Cabinet Secretary Simon Case to discuss whether Mr Blyth, a distant cousin of Mr Johnson whom Mr Sharp has known for more than 40 years, could act as a guarantor for a loan facility for the prime minister.

Selection 'done by the book'

Mr Sharp has insisted there was no “conflict of interest” and previously said he will remain in place because his selection process was done "by the book".

Mr Johnson also denied any wrongdoing last week, saying Mr Sharp “knows absolutely nothing about my personal finances – I can tell you that for 100 per cent ding dang sure”.

The Sunday Times reported that Mr Johnson was warned by officials in Dec 2020 to stop discussing his financial arrangements with Mr Sharp, days before the latter was announced as the new BBC chairman in Jan 2021.

The newspaper, citing a leaked Cabinet Office memo, said top civil servant Mr Case told Mr Johnson: "Given the imminent announcement of Richard Sharp as the new BBC chair, it is important that you no longer ask his advice about your personal financial matters."

Mr Johnson reportedly secured the money in Feb 2021.

A spokesman for the former prime minister has said Mr Sharp had "never given any financial advice to Boris Johnson, nor has Mr Johnson sought any financial advice from him".