Calls for Government to Publish ‘Secret’ List of Ministers’ Interests After Boris Johnson BBC Scandal
As the former PM continues to deny he sought financial advice from the BBC’s now Chairman, guidance from his civil servant at the time has contradicted this, reports Josiah Mortimer
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Calls are growing on the Government to publish Boris Johnson’s internal register of ministerial interests, after a leaked Cabinet Office document appeared to confirm he was receiving financial advice from the man he was about to appoint as the BBC’s chairman while he was Prime Minister.
Despite Johnson describing claims he received advice from his long-term friend, Conservative donor and BBC Chairman Richard Sharp as “complete nonsense”, new details have emerged that he was told by his Permanent Secretary Simon Case to stop seeking Sharp’s advice “on his personal financial matters”.
It follows allegations that Sharp helped facilitate an £800,000 loan for Johnson before Sharp was appointed BBC Chairman in February 2021.
Sharp has claimed there was “no conflict of interest”. However, it is now the subject of a probe into whether rules were broken.
The Sunday Times reported that Johnson was formally told by the Cabinet Office to stop asking Sharp for “advice” about his “personal financial matters”. “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”, the advice from Case said, according to the newspaper.
And there are fresh claims that details of the loan – set up for the then Prime Minister to draw on during his time in office – were included in Johnson’s own declaration in the internal register of ministers’ interests, but which were not made public. The civil service’s advice was reportedly that the £800,000 loan to Johnson was not relevant to declare publicly because it was from a foreign national – Johnson’s distant cousin, Canadian Sam Blyth.
George Havenhand, senior legal advisor at Spotlight on Corruption, told Byline Times: “It’s pretty extraordinary – the advice commissioned by Simon Case says you don’t need to declare the loan as a relevant interest. They thought him being a foreign national was helpful. ‘He’s overseas, don’t worry about it’. It’s an £800k loan facility by a foreign citizen – there was seemingly no thought of the national security implications.”
The SNP has urged Rishi Sunak to immediately remove the Conservative whip from Johnson following the revelations, while the Liberal Democrats are demanding the secret register entries be published in full.
Lib Dem Chief Whip Wendy Chamberlain said: “This bombshell revelation suggests Boris Johnson has been lying through his teeth yet again. How can Johnson claim that Richard Sharp knew nothing of his personal finances when he was explicitly told by officials to stop asking for his financial advice?
“The public are sick of these endless lies and Conservative cover-ups. This Government must come clean and publish all relevant documents, including Boris Johnson’s internal register of interests, so we can get to the bottom of this. Rishi Sunak must also finally publish the latest list of Conservative ministers’ interests, which shockingly has still not been updated since last May.”
Even the public declarations of ministerial interests have not been updated for 244 days. They are meant to be published twice yearly, meaning they have been delayed by at least two months. Other MPs’ own declarations of interests must be published more frequently, meaning ministers are less subject to scrutiny over their financial affairs.
Richard Sharp has previously admitted he contacted civil service chief Simon Case in late 2020 to discuss an offer of financial help from Johnson’s distant cousin Sam Blyth. However, he said he “simply connected people” and had no additional role in arranging the £800,000 loan facility Johnson then secured.
The scandal is one of several currently engulfing the first months of Rishi Sunak’s administration. The Government’s independent advisor on ethics found on Sunday that former Conservative Party Chair Nadhim Zahawi had initially failed to declare HMRC’s investigation into his finances when he became Boris Johnson’s Chancellor last July, and that he failed to update his declaration of ministerial interests after a multi-million-pound settlement and penalty with HMRC last September.
Ethics advisor Sir Laurie Magnus also found that Zahawi failed to disclose the nature of the HMRC probe and penalty when Sunak was forming his own Government in October 2022 – including to Cabinet Office officials who support that process, as reported by Politico.
Meanwhile, the Johnson-backing Conservative version of ‘Momentum’ – the Conservative Democratic Organisation – is calling for a members’ vote on the new chair of the party to replace Zahawi. On Sunday, Johnson ally and former Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg told GB News that the disgraced ex-Prime Minister has all the necessary traits to succeed as chairman.
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The House of Commons Privileges Committee’s investigation into whether Boris Johnson lied to Parliament while Prime Minister over the ‘Partygate’ scandal is set to begin soon, and could prove the nail in the coffin for the absent MP for Uxbridge’s reputation.
SNP Cabinet Office spokesperson Kirsty Blackman said the latest revelations are “devastating” for Johnson because “they show how he has lied through his teeth about his relationship with the BBC’s Chairman”. She called on Rishi Sunak to “remove the whip from Johnson immediately”.
“His appointment of Richard Sharp as BBC Chair absolutely reeks of cronyism and corruption and a full investigation must be carried out into the appointment by Boris Johnson,” she added.
Labour has demanded that the latest revelations are taken into account by the BBC’s own probe into the matter, requested by Richard Sharp himself. However, the Mirror has reported that the investigation will be run by the father of Rishi Sunak’s policy chief – meaning public trust in the process is by no means guaranteed.
A spokesperson for Boris Johnson told The Sunday Times that “Richard Sharp has never given any financial advice to Boris Johnson, nor has Mr Johnson sought any financial advice from him”.
The Cabinet Office pointed Byline Times to Paymaster General Jeremy Quin’s comments in the Commons last week, when asked when the declarations of ministerial interests would be published. He said: “Members will be aware that the Prime Minister has appointed Sir Laurie Magnus as his independent advisor on ministers’ interests. Sir Laurie will be taking forward the work on the declaration of Ministers’ interests in line with his published terms of reference.”
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