Labour is calling for an investigation into the BBC appointment process for its chair following “sleaze” claims.
The man currently in the top role, Richard Sharp, allegedly helped Boris Johnson secure a loan guarantee before being recommended for the job.
Shadow culture secretary Lucy Powell has written to the Commissioner for Public Appointments, William Shawcross CVO, asking him to investigate the appointment process.
Labour has already reported Mr Johnson to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards following the report in the Sunday Times, which his spokesperson described as “rubbish”.
Mr Sharp has also denied a conflict of interest, but calls for clarity are growing after Foreign Secretary James Cleverly evaded answers on the story during media rounds this morning.
Ms Powell said the BBC is meant to be impartial and “it is vital that the public and parliament can have trust in the process and it is free from any real or perceived conflict of interest”.
“Accordingly, I urge you to investigate this process, and satisfy the public and Parliament of its integrity,” she said in her letter.
The Sunday Times reported Mr Sharp, a Tory donor, was involved in arranging a guarantor on a loan of up to £800,000 for Mr Johnson in late 2020.
Mr Sharp told the newspaper he had “simply connected” people and there was no conflict of interest, while Mr Johnson’s spokesman insisted his financial arrangements “have been properly declared”.
Lord Kerslake, the former head of the Civil Service, told Sky News there should be an independent investigation into the claims – either through a parliamentary select committee or by the prime minister’s new ethics adviser – so the facts can be “completely established”.
“The position of the chairman of the BBC is an enormously important one for the country and you want the process for appointing a new person to be absolutely squeaky clean,” he said.
“The problem we have got here is we have only got half the information, it’s a set of stories that aren’t fully validated and that’s why I agree it needs independent investigation.
“There’s plenty of routes where this could be examined, and the facts completely established, including to what extent the prime minister himself was aware of and involved in the discussions that went on here.”
Earlier, cabinet minister James Cleverly defended Mr Sharp’s appointment, saying he had “no doubt” the chairman was given the job based “on merit”.
But he admitted he had not tried to contact Mr Johnson about the Sunday Times story, telling Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday: “You’re the journalist not me.”
This was criticised by several Labour MPs, with Louise Haigh, the shadow transport secretary, tweeting: “We’re all briefed before going on the media. Either he deliberately didn’t ask the questions or deliberately wasn’t told the answers.”