UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak under pressure over BBC and party chairman appointments

LONDON: Just days after being fined by police for not wearing a seatbelt, Britain’s Prime Minister Rishi Sunak embroiled in other scandals, this time over allegations of cronyism over the appointment of two presidents: the BBC president and the chairman of the conservative party. Sunak takes the criticism even though both problems started under his predecessor, Boris Johnson.
The appointment of BBC Chairman Richard Sharp is being reviewed by the Public Appointments Commissioner, William Shawcross, who oversees the way public appointments are made. Sharp is accused of helping Johnson secure an £800,000 (just over Rs 8 crore today) loan in 2020, when Johnson was Prime Minister and in financial trouble due to his divorce bill, childcare costs and renovation costs to her Downing Street flat. Shortly after, Sharp was announced as the government’s choice for the £160,000 (around Rs 1.6 crore) a year role of chairman of the BBC. Sharp did not declare his assistance to Johnson when he applied for the post, neither to the nominations committee nor to the BBC. Revelations in London’s ‘Sunday Times’ led Labor shadow culture secretary Lucy Powell MP to write to Shawcross asking him to investigate the nominations process.
The “Sunday Times” reported that Sharp introduced Sam Blyth, a multi-millionaire Canadian businessman and Johnson’s distant cousin who had offered to be the guarantor for Johnson’s loan, to Simon Case, the cabinet secretary.
Johnson then recommended Sharp for the BBC role weeks later. The President of the BBC is appointed by the government to maintain the neutrality and impartiality of the BBC.
Johnson denied any wrongdoing, telling Sky News that Sharp knew nothing about his finances. “This is just another example of the BBC disappearing on its own foundations,” he said. Sharp, too, denies doing anything wrong and says he just hooked people up saying there was no conflict of interest.
Sunak is also under pressure over his appointment of Iraqi-born Nadhim Zahawi as conservative president in October. On Monday, Sunak ordered the government’s new independent adviser on ministerial interests, Sir Laurie Magnus, to try whether Zahawi breached the ministerial code during a £5million (Rs 50.3 crore) settlement with HM Revenue & Customs, which would have included a £1 million fine. Sunak maintains that he was unaware of Zahawi’s tax problems when he appointed him president. Zahawi is resisting pressure to step down even though he was investigated by HMRC when he was chancellor last summer.
MP Angela Rayner, deputy Labor leader, blamed Sunak, saying he ‘failed to deliver the integrity, professionalism and accountability he promised’.
Asked if Sunak was aware that Zahawi had paid a fine to HMRC when he was appointed, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman replied: “That’s not my understanding.”
It all comes as another blow to Sunak, who is trying to distance himself from the squalor that has engulfed Boris Johnson’s government.


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