Boris Johnson has been accused of leading a government based on “sleaze and corruption”.
It came as he defiantly stood by under-fire Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick amid ‘cash for favours’ claims – repeatedly declaring the matter “closed”.
It comes after Mr Jenrick appeared to admit rushing through a planning approval to help Tory donor Richard Desmond reduce the tax bill for a property development.
Business Minister Nadhim Zahawi told the BBC: “If people go to a fundraiser in their local area…for the Conservative Party, they will be sitting next to MPs and other people in their local authorities and can interact with different parts of the authority.”
Texts and emails released by Mr Jenrick show he was “insistent” that a £1bn property deal be approved quickly, after he met Mr Desmond at a £900-a-plate Tory fundraising dinner in November 2019.
The pair exchanged numbers and kept in touch.
Mr Jenrick green-lit the deal the day before the local Labour council – in one of the country’s most deprived boroughs – was set to introduce a levy on new property developments to pay for improved facilities and infrastructure.
In one text, Mr Desmond urged Mr Jenrick to act quickly in approving the £1bn Westferry Printworks housing development in London’s Tower Hamlets because “we don’t want to give Marxists loads of doe (sic) for nothing.”
In reply, Mr Jenrick warned Mr Desmond it was “important not to give any appearance of being influenced by applicants of cases that I may have a role in or to have predetermined them and so I think it is best that we don’t meet until after the matter has decided.”
In another text, to which Mr Jenrick did not reply, Mr Desmond said an early decision would save him “£45 million” – meaning he could afford to include more social housing in the East London development.
An email between officials in the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government revealed Mr Jenrick had been “insistent” in a later meeting that the project be given the green light before the levy added millions to the cost.
Mr Jenrick later had to quash his own approval, admitting that the decision was “unlawful” due to “apparent bias”.
Business minister Nadhim Zahawi yesterday appeared to suggest any developer who wanted to have privileged access to decision-makers should attend a Tory fundraising event.
But Mr Zahawi, himself a millionaire, stressed that “the access did not buy this billionaire a decision”.
The Stratford-upon-Avon MP has a property portfolio worth £25 million –
including a £13 million property in London’s Belgravia.
Between 2015 and 2017 he was thought to be Westminster’s second highest-earning MP, raking in £500,0000 in earnings on top of his MP’s salary.
Mr Jenrick also owns a more-than-modest property portfolio, including a £1.1million mansion in Herefordshire.
Mr Jenrick also owns a £2.5million townhouse less than a mile from the Houses of Parliament while also renting a £2,000-a-month property in his constituency – which he bills to the taxpayer.
A Labour spokesman said: “Senior Tories say that anyone can get the same access to the Government Richard Desmond enjoys – all they have to do is attend swanky Tory fundraisers and hope they get sat next to an MP.
“The ‘cash for favours’ scandal has laid bare that it’s one rule for the Tories and their wealthy friends, another for the rest of us.”
Former Lib Dem Leader Tim Farron said: “The ‘defence’ of Robert Jenrick is in reality little more than an admission of cash for access.
“It seems the Tory Party’s commitment to the ‘levelling up’ agenda amounts to sleaze and corruption.”
He added: “I have nothing against Mr Jenrick personally, but integrity in politics matters. He must resign today, and, if not, the PM must dismiss him or else lose all moral authority.”
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman refused to address a string of legitimate questions about the affair in a regular Westminster briefing yesterday (SUN).
He repeated on nine occasions: “The Housing Secretary has set out his account in public and to Parliament, including publishing the relevant documentation.
“He has also written to the chair of the select committee outlining the timeline of events and the rationale for the decision.
He added: “In light of this account, the PM considers the matter closed.”
Two weeks after Mr Jenrick stepped in to approve the development, Electoral Commission records show that Mr Desmond personally gave £12,000 to the Conservatives.
Tower Hamlets’ Labour mayor John Biggs said: “The revelations about the Westferry Printworks decision have blown apart confidence in our planning system under Mr Jenrick.
“The documents he was forced to release are damning and it looks like he rushed through the decision to help save the developer money and short-change my residents.
“The minister referred to our borough as ‘rotten’, and messages from the developer called our council ‘Marxist’.
“This name calling says more about them and their disregard for my residents whose borough it is, and who rightly want much-needed affordable homes and money for local services.”