Boris Johnson is facing down calls for an ethics investigation after reports that he received help with a loan from the man he would later recommend to head the BBC.
The opposition Labour party has demanded an investigation after reports that Mr Johnson went to Richard Sharp to help arrange a guarantee on a loan of up to £800,000 ($991,000).
Mr Sharp, a Conservative Party donor, was involved in talks about financing Mr Johnson in late 2020, The Sunday Times reported.
Mr Sharp introduced Canadian businessman Sam Blyth, who had proposed to act as Mr Johnson's guarantor for a credit facility, to the Cabinet Secretary, according to the paper.
That was weeks before he was recommended for the job of BBC chairman by the then-prime minister.
Mr Johnson was ousted after a number of ethics scandals that included being fined for his role in the so-called partygate controversy and his handling of a colleague’s sexual harassment scandal.
A spokesman for Mr Johnson dismissed the report as “rubbish” and insisted his financial arrangements “have been properly declared”.
Labour has written to parliamentary commissioner for standards Daniel Greenberg, with party chairwoman Anneliese Dodds demanding an “urgent investigation”.
She cited the MPs' code of conduct that “holders of public office should not place themselves under any financial or other obligation to outside individuals or organisations that might influence them in the performance of their official duties”.
She told the standards commissioner she was concerned that Mr Johnson “may have breached this section by asking for an individual to facilitate a guarantee on a loan whom he would later appoint to a senior public role”.
“The lack of transparency around it, like that of the issue raised around Mr Blyth, may give the impression that this was a quid pro quo arrangement,” she added.
Mr Sharp, a former Goldman Sachs banker, was announced as the government's choice for the BBC role in January 2021.
“Richard Sharp has never given any financial advice to Boris Johnson, nor has Mr Johnson sought any financial advice from him,” a spokesman for Mr Johnson said.
Of Mr Johnson's private dinner with Mr Sharp, an old friend, and Mr Blyth, who is a distant relative, the spokesman said: “So what? Big deal.”
Mr Sharp told The Sunday Times: “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 BBC spokesman said: “The BBC plays no role in the recruitment of the chair and any questions are a matter for the government.”
'Sharp was appointed on merit'
Foreign Secretary James Cleverly on Sunday defended Mr Johnson, saying he had “no doubt” Mr Sharp was appointed to head the BBC "on merit”.
Mr Cleverly told the BBC’s Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg programme, that “there is nothing wrong” with someone who is politically active being appointed to lead the broadcaster.
“I know that he [Richard Sharp] is an incredibly accomplished, incredibly successful individual who brings a wealth of experience with him,” Mr Cleverly said.
“That is why he was appointed to the chairmanship of the BBC, but I’ve not had the chance to discuss any of the issues that were brought up today.
“But I have absolutely no doubt he was appointed on merit, and the point that I would just remind people of is, it is not unusual, and indeed there is nothing wrong, for someone to be politically active prior to their appointment to senior BBC positions.
“That’s something that has happened pretty regularly in the past.”
Asked whether the connection should have been declared in full on principle, Mr Cleverly merely repeated his point about Mr Sharp’s accomplishments.