To close observers of the Cabinet Office’s occasionally-updated transparency data, news this week of Boris Johnson’s close relationship with Richard Sharp, the BBC chairman, will have come as no surprise. (As for the claim, denied by Sharp, that shortly before being recommended for his £160,000-a-year job by Johnson he helped to facilitate a loan agreement for the prime minister with Sam Blyth, Johnson’s distant Canadian cousin – well, the Chatterer will leave it to NS readers to decide whether that is a surprise or not.)
During his time in No 10, Johnson registered more meetings with Sharp, a former Goldman Sachs banker, than any other non-editorial media executive. According to transparency disclosures, published by the Cabinet Office and compiled last year by Press Gazette, Johnson met Sharp on six occasions between January 2021, when Sharp was chairman-designate of the BBC, and the summer of 2022, when Johnson left office. Rupert Murdoch – with whom Johnson recorded five meetings during his time in office – eat your heart out.
Johnson’s first two meetings with Sharp, in January and April 2021, were recorded as being for “general discussion”. In May 2021 the pair had a “social meeting”. In July 2021 Johnson met Sharp along with Tim Davie, the BBC’s director-general, and Clare Sumner, director of policy, to discuss the “BBC’s vision for the future”. Two more “social meetings” between Johnson and Sharp followed in September 2021 and May 2022. Cosy.
Sharp-eyed readers will note that there is no official record of Johnson’s chop suey dinner with Sharp and Blyth at Chequers, the PM’s country home. In fact, Johnson made no Chequers-specific disclosures between October and December 2020. The Cabinet Office’s document on Chequers disclosures explains: “This return includes guests who have received official hospitality at Chequers, excluding officials and special advisers. It does not include those receiving hospitality paid for personally by the Prime Minister or by the Conservative Party at political events, such as MPs, where there is no cost to the taxpayer.”
Which begs the question: how many other chop suey dinners do we not know about?
[See also: Richard Sharp’s letter to BBC staff leaves the essential questions unanswered]