Housing minister Robert Jenrick refused to turn up to the House of Commons to answer questions about his go-ahead for a billionaire Conservative party donor’s property scheme, it has emerged.
Labour MPs summoned Jenrick to defend the decision, which has been ruled unlawful, but he dispatched junior minister Chris Pincher instead.
In January, Jenrick approved controversial tycoon Richard Desmond’s plan to build 1,500 homes on the site of a former printworks on East London's Isle of Dogs – overturning rejections by the local council and independent inspectors.
— Paul Brand (@PaulBrandITV) June 11, 2020
The decision came just a day before changes to the planning system, which would’ve cost Desmond’s company Northern & Shell an extra £30 - £50 million, were implemented.
It’s now emerged Mr Desmond donated £12,000 to the Conservatives 29th January, having shared a table at a Conservative fundraising dinner last November.
Labour has demanded Jenrick publish all correspondence related to the planning decision, warning there must be no “cash for favours”, while also seeking clarification on whether he disclosed an earlier conversation with Desmond to his department’s top civil servant ahead of the go-ahead – and, if not, whether this breached the ministerial code.
Pincher echoed the supportive words of other ministers at his Commons appearance, saying Jenrick acted properly and with propriety over his approval of the property scheme. However, such assurances are difficult to square with Jenrick’s own admission of wrongdoing in the case.
— Chris Matheson MP (@ChrisM4Chester) June 11, 2020
After the council mounted a High Court challenge, he accepted it’d been “unlawful by reason of apparent bias” and agreed he’d take no further part in decisions relating to the matter.
“Government policy is in no way influenced by party donations – they’re entirely separate. Donations to the Conservative party are properly and transparently declared to the Electoral Commission, published by them, and comply fully with the law,” the Conservative party alleged in a statement.