Sunday, 5 Feb 2023

Cleverly snaps at Sophie Ridge over Boris sleaze probe

Shapps backs Sunak when questioned on Boris Johnson

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James Cleverly put Sophie Ridge firmly in her place during a feisty interview on her Sunday morning programme on Sky. The Foreign Secretary found himself having to answer tough questions over Boris Johnson’s appointment of Richard Sharp as BBC chairman in January 2021. A report in today’s Sunday Times claims the the BCC chairman was appointed to his role weeks after helping to secure Mr Johnson an £800,000 loan.

Referring to the article, Ms Ridge asked the Foreign Secretary whether the story was true.

Mr Cleverly replied: “Well, I have not had a conversation with either of those parties about that situation.

“I have met with Richard and we discussed the World Service.

“He struck me as an incredibly competent, experienced, thoughtful individual and I can see exactly why he has the attributes both personal and professional to be the chair of the BBC.

“So as far as I can see his appointment was made on those merits. And he has denied there being any conflict of interest.”

Ms Ridge countered: “You say that you haven’t spoken to Boris Johnson or Richard Sharp.

“You know, I am just wondering whether that’s good enough. You’re close to Boris Johnson, you’ve got his phone number – why didn’t you text him?”

She then continued to press her point, saying: “The concern here is that Mr Sharp helped to guarantee a loan of £800,000 to a man who then recommended him for the job.

“You are saying you don’t know if it’s true or not, because you haven’t tried to find out.

“It might be easy for you to come here and say I don’t know, I haven’t got anything to do with it but it’s not great for transparency is it?”

A clearly exasperated Mr Cleverly snapped: “Well look, you’re the journalist not me!

“My role as Foreign Secretary is to be the face of voice of this country on the world stage on the actions of our government and on behalf of our people.”

Mr Sharp is a former Goldman Sachs banker. The Sunday Times article alleges that he introduced the multimillionaire Canadian businessman Sam Blyth to the Cabinet Secretary.

The newspaper claims that Mr Blyth had proposed to act as Mr Johnson’s guarantor for a credit facility.

The claims have been rubbished and dismissed by Mr Johnson’s camp, who insisted that his financial affairs “have been properly declared”.

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A spokesperson for the former Prime Minister said: “Richard Sharp has never given any financial advice to Boris Johnson, nor has Mr Johnson sought any financial advice from him.”

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 spokesperson said: “The BBC plays no role in the recruitment of the chair and any questions are a matter for the government.”

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