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Labour refer Robert Jenrick to Commons sleaze watchdog as Westferry planning row rumbles on

Robert Jenrick has accused Labour of pushing “wild accusations and baseless innuendo” about his contact with Richard Desmond.

4 min read

Labour have referred Cabinet minister Robert Jenrick to Parliament's standards watchdog as they accused Boris Johnson of trying to sweep the Westferry planning row "under the carpet".

Shadow Communities Secretary Steve Reed said his opposite number still had "unanswered questions" over his controversial decision to give the go-ahead to an east London property development backed by Conservative donor Richard Desmond.

The Labour frontbencher said he was "concerned that the Secretary of State has not lived up to" the code of conducting governing all MPs, as Number 10 faced fresh questions over the Prime Minister's own contact with Mr Desmond.

Mr Jenrick, the Communities Secretary, has been at the centre of a major political row after giving the green-light to the Westferry printworks development backed by Mr Desmond despite objections from the local council and planning inspector.

Mr Desmond, the former owner of the Express newspaper, later donated thousands to the Conservative Party, and was seated next to the Communities Secretary at a Tory fundraising dinner in November.

A raft of documents released by Mr Jenrick this week detail interactions between the pair, as well as messages from officials in the minister's department on the printworks plan.

They include a complaint from Mr Desmond about paying a potential £45m levy to the “Marxist” Tower Hamlets council.

In a letter to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, which will have to decide whether or not to pursue the matter, Mr Reed said: "The Code of Conduct for Members of the House of Commons states that members should act on all occasions in accordance with the public trust placed in them.   

"They should always behave with probity and integrity, including in their use of public resources.

"It also states that holders of public office should be as open as possible about all the decisions and actions that they take. They should give reasons for their decisions and restrict information only when the wider public interest clearly demands.

"I am concerned that the Secretary of State has not lived up to these principles in his actions in the Westferry case."

The Labour frontbencher claimed there were "significant discrepancies" in Mr Jenrick's account of his interactions with the former Daily Express owner, and claim he "wanted to do favours for Mr Desmond without being seen to do so".

But Number 10 on Friday dismissed claims that Mr Jenrick's conduct warranted an investigation under the ministerial code.

“The housing secretary set out his account in public and to Parliament, including publishing all the relevant documentation," a spokesperson said, repeating the defence of Mr Jenrick given earlier this week.

They added: “He also wrote to the chair of the select committee and as the cabinet secretary wrote in his letter, in light of this account the PM considers the matter closed.”

And Number 10 refused to say if the Prime Minister had spoken to Mr Desmond himself, after the Daily Mail published a picture of the pair standing together at the same Tory fundraiser dinner.

“We’ve been clear that no one in Number 10 discussed this planning application or appeal with Mr Desmond or his representatives," they said.

"We have no involvement in the Secretary of State's appeal.”

Asked specifically if the pair had discussed the issue, the spokesperson said: “I can’t speak to what was said at that dinner.”

He also rebuffed calls to follow suit and disclose all communication between the Prime Minister and Mr Desmond as Mr Jenrick has done.

The Communities Secretary himself has accused Labour of pushing “wild accusations and baseless innuendo” about his contact with the billionaire.

But Mr Reed said: "The Prime Minister can’t just sweep this issue under the carpet. There are still so many unanswered questions about Robert Jenrick’s unlawful attempt to help Richard Desmond dodge £150m in tax days before he made a generous donation to the Conservative Party.

"The Prime Minister has yet again shown woefully poor judgment by not referring clear breaches of the Ministerial Code to the Cabinet Secretary and he must now come clean himself about his own involvement in this case."

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