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Mon, 19 October 2020

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Westferry row: Boris Johnson has ‘full confidence’ in Robert Jenrick as Labour say PM’s ‘judgement’ in question

Westferry row: Boris Johnson has ‘full confidence’ in Robert Jenrick as Labour say PM’s ‘judgement’ in question

Number 10 said the Communities Secretary had ‘ set out his account in public and to Parliament’. (PA)

3 min read

Boris Johnson still has full confidence in Robert Jenrick and considers a row over a controversial housing development pushed for by a Tory donor “closed”, Number 10 has said.

The Prime Minister stood behind the embattled Communities Secretary despite calls from Labour and the Liberal Democrats for him to explain a string of contacts with property tycoon Richard Desmond.

And Number 10 denied that Boris Johnson’s claim to be leading a ‘People’s Government’ had been dented by the row.

But Labour’s Keir Starmer said the PM’s own judgement over the matter was now “at issue”.

Mr Jenrick has been at the centre of a political storm 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 on Wednesday night 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.

Meanwhile, messages from officials show Mr Jenrick raised the development days after meeting the former Daily Express owner at a party fundraiser. The Communities Secretary later had to reverse the decision after admitting it was "unlawful" because of "apparent bias".

The Cabinet minister has defended his conduct, and told MPs on Wednesday that Labour were pushing “wild accusations and baseless innuendo” about his contact with the billionaire.

'CLOSED'

Speaking on Thursday, the Prime Minister‘s official spokesperson said: ”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.

“As the Cabinet Secretary wrote in his letter, in light of this account the Prime Minister considers this matter closed.”

Asked if the PM still had full confidence in Mr Jenrick, the spokesperson said: “Yes.”

Number 10 meanwhile refused to be drawn on comments from business minister Nadhim Zahawi on Thursday morning, after he told the Today programme that fundraisers offer people the chance to be “sitting next to MPs, and other people in their local authorities” to “interact” with them.

While not addressing those comments directly, the PM’s spokesperson said: “All ministers are expected to act with propriety. 

“Robert Jenrick gave an account in public and to Parliament and in light of this account the PM considers the matter closed.”

They added: “Number 10 had no involvement with the Secretary of State’s appeal decision.”

And, pressed on whether the row meant Boris Johnson could no longer claim to represent a ‘People’s Government’, the Downing Street spokesperson said: “The Prime Minister leads a government which is delivering on the priorities of the public."

LABOUR DEMANDS 'STRAIGHT ANSWERS'

But Sir Keir told the BBC the row had “now got to the stage where the Prime Minister's judgment is at issue”.

“He says the matter is closed, but it’s far from closed," the Labour leader said.

“The latest disclosures show discrepancies. They show Mr Jenrick initiated conversations. 

“So we need to see the full disclosure, we want straight answers on this. I think the public do.

"They can tell that something's wrong here.”

The Labour leader said his party wanted to see “straight answers, full disclosure, and an investigation by the cabinet secretary”. 

Asked whether Mr Jenrick should stay in post, Sir Keir said: “Let's have a full disclosure. Let’s have those full answers. Let the Cabinet Secretary look at it.

“But the idea that the public don't know there's something wrong here, I think, is false.”

 

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