The Conservative MP for Newark Robert Jenrick has today been told to consider his position as Secretary of State over his role in an unlawful £1bn property deal and a subsequent donation form the developer to the Conservative party.
Back in January, Jenrick – who is also the Secretary of State for Housing – overruled his planning inspector and granted permission for a controversial 1,500 home development on the Isle of Dogs.
Just weeks earlier, he had sat at the same table as the developer, former Daily Express owner Richard Desmond.
Two weeks after the development was approved, Mr Desmond made a £12,000 donation to the Conservatives.
The planning permission was approved one day before rule changes meant Mr Desmond would have had to pay an additional £30 to £50 million for infrastructure.
When the local council challenged the decision at the High Court, Mr Jenrick admitted he had acted unlawfully, and in a way which showed ‘apparent bias’.
Today, Mr Jenrick told the house a complaint to the police had been dropped by specialist officers at the Met Police.
He also revealed he was aware at the time he gave permission that there was one day left before the developer had to make up to £50 million in infrastructure contributions.
The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government has since denied there was any bias, but has said the planning application will be reviewed again by a different minister from the same department.
Several requests, including by Sir Keir Starmer and in court by Tower Hamlets Council, have been made for details of communications between the developer and Mr Jenrick to be made public, however these have so far been refused.
Mr Jenrick had been due to face the House of Commons last week during an urgent question, but instead nominated junior minister Chris Pincher to answer for him.
Today, Mr Jenrick said his department was considering releasing more details about the communications.
But in his weekly House of Commons slot today (Monday, June 15), opposition MPs said there were still significant questions to be answered, and called for him to consider his position.
The SNP MP Tommy Shepherd said: “He (Mr Jenrick) accepts that he acted unlawfully in overruling the local authority to grant planning permission to a wealthy Tory donor, helping him avoid £40 million in tax.
“Will he now explain to this house how he expects the public to have confidence in planning procedures given his actions, and why he thinks it is appropriate for him to remain in post, while the police investigation into his behaviour is ongoing.”
Mr Jenrick replied: “I’m happy to clarify a number of those points, the vast majority of which were factually incorrect.
“I understand that a Labour member of the House of Lords did make an allegation to the police, that was swiftly assessed by members of the Metropolitan Police, and they informed me that there were no criminal matters to investigate and they had no intention of taking it further, so I would welcome him withdrawing that suggestion.
“In terms of the decision I entirely stand behind the decision I made, I made with an open mind because we want to see more homes built in this country, particularly in our capital city.”
Labour’s shadow secretary of state Steve Reed said: “The Secretary of State is caught up in a cash for favours row that now reaches inside Number 10. But last week he didn’t even have the courage to show up and answer questions in this chamber.
“Given the gravity of the allegations surrounding his unlawful decision on the Westferry development, will he agree to make a full statement to the house, publish all correspondence and disclose all conversations with other Government ministers and officials relating to this case to reassure the public that the integrity of the planning process cannot be auctioned off at Conservative Party fundraising dinners.”
Mr Jenrick replied and said he would be having conversations with senior civil servants about what communications could be disclosed.