We’re closing this live blog down now. Thanks for reading and commenting. For the latest developments in the Jenrick story, read my colleague Rajeev Syal’s latest article:
And, for those not fully up to speed, here’s the background:
PM claims Jenrick 'matter is closed'
Despite this evening’s revelations, the cabinet secretary Mark Sedwill has written to Labour to say the prime minister “considers that the matter is closed”.
Following those comments in the Commons, Reed has now said:
These explosive new revelations show clear discrepancies between what the secretary of state told the House of Commons and what appears in the official documents.
The documents clearly show that Mr Jenrick did not notify officials immediately after his meeting with Mr Desmond; rather than ‘closing down’ the discussion as he claims, he initiated contact with Mr Desmond by text message the following day; and it confirms that he rushed through the decision specifically to help the developer avoid a £30-50m levy payable to the local council for infrastructure in one of the poorest local ities in England.
The housing secretary needs to come to the House to explain these discrepancies as a matter of urgency: the public must be reassured that there is not one rule for the Conservatives and their wealthy donors and another rule for everyone else.
The Lib Dem MP Layla Moran has said the revelations make Jenrick’s position untenable.
These documents are further evidence that he rushed through this planning decision to help a Tory donor avoid paying millions in tax. This whole grubby saga netted the Conservative party only £12,000, but could have helped Richard Desmond save up to £50m.
The public will be appalled at what looks like a clear abuse of power. Robert Jenrick must go and the Conservative Party must hand back this donation.
Raising a point of order in the Commons, the shadow communities secretary Steve Reed asked whether Jenrick had indicated if he would make a statement following the release of documents relating to the Westferry development application.
Has the Speaker received notification from (Mr Jenrick) that he wishes to give a statement on the documents he has recently released regarding the Westferry decision if there appear to be significant discrepancies between what (Mr Jenrick) told the House and what is revealed in the documents?
Specifically that he did not immediately notify officials following his dinner with the applicant Richard Desmond, that rather than closing discussion down with the developer, as (Mr Jenrick) implied, he instead initiated contact with him the next day via text.
And the letters confirm that he rushed through the decision deliberately to help the developer avoid a 30 to 50 million levy payable to Tower Hamlets Council?
The deputy speaker Dame Rosie Winterton responded:
I have received no notification that (Mr Jenrick) intends to make a statement but obviously the Treasury bench will have heard his (Mr Reed’s) comments, and it is obviously up to ministers to come to the House if they wish to say anything to correct the record through any statement or other means.
According to the documents, that site visit did not take place and no further communication followed because Jenrick “did not take Mr Desmond’s calls” when he attempted to get in contact “on a number of occasions”.
Another message from Desmond followed on 23 December, in which he said:
Morning Robert How does the advice look? We have to get the approval before January 15 otherwise payment of 45 million pounds to tower hamlets (sic) meaning we have to stop and reduce social housing.
According to the documents, Jenrick again did not reply and it was not until 22 January that he got back in touch, after he approved the development, overruling both Tower Hamlets Council and a planning inspector. His message read:
Richard I hope you understood that I could not speak with you or have contact whilst I was making my decision with respect to the planning application at Westferry - which was why I did not return your messages. Best wishes, Robert.
Robert I totally understand why we could not have contact with you or your department while you were making the decision. I have now pushed the button on a further 600million investment at the development as a result of the decision, enabling the social housing and market housing to more than double together with the delivery of the magnificent new school etc etc.
This will create thousands of new jobs pretty much straight away - as we are ‘on it’ and don’t hang around!!!
That exchange, the final messages included in the documents, ended with the pair agreeing to a site visit in March.
Further text message exchanges followed, beginning on 13 December, when Desmond congratulated the Jenrick on the Conservative election win.
Robert, fantastic day today! So happy and relieved as the whole country is. Well done for keeping calm.
Looking forward to next Thursday. Are you coming here to our offices at 10.30 am and then we’ll all go down to Westferry together? Do you need transport?
But, two days later, Jenrick said he would be unable to make the meeting due to the Queen’s speech.
However we will meet up soon. And I will look at the advice regarding the application this week. Best wishes, Robert.
Desmond replied on the same day asking if they could meet before Christmas but the documents say Jenrick did not reply.
The documents also include text messages exchanged between Jenrick and Desmond shortly after the Tory party fundraiser in November 2019.
On the night of the event, 18 November, Jenrick texted the former media mogul saying it was “good to spend time with him” and looked forward to seeing him again.
In another exchange two days later, Desmond tried to arrange a meeting with the housing secretary for 19 December, as well as a site visit to the Westferry Printworks, complaining about dealing with “Marxists”.
Good news finally the inspectors reports have gone to you today, we appreciate the speed as we don’t want to give Marxists loads of doe for nothing!
We all want to go with the scheme and the social housing we have proposed and spent a month at the Marxist town hall debating, thanks again, all my best, Richard.
Jenrick replied declining a meeting until after a decision had been made due to his position.
As Secretary of State it is 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 been decided, one way of [sic] another – and I can’t provide any advice to you on that, other than to say that I will receive advice from my officials after the general election assuming I remain in office and will consider it carefully in accordance with the rules and guidance.
Jenrick is under pressure to resign as the newly released documents indicate that he insisted the planning decision for the £1bn development should be rushed through so that a Tory donor’s company could reduce costs by up to £50m.
In one document, a civil servant in the ministry for housing, communities and local government wrote that the secretary of state wanted the Westferry development in east London to be signed off the following day so that Desmond’s company would avoid the Community Infrastructure Levy. The official wrote:
On timing, my understanding is that SoS is/was insistent that decision issued this week ie tomorrow – as next week the viability of the scheme is impacted by a change in the London CIL regime.
Jenrick has also previously confirmed that he looked at images of the development on the phone of Desmond, the former owner of Express Newspapers, at a Tory fundraising event, as revealed by the Sunday Times.
Papers relating to Richard Desmond planning decision published
The government has released a cache of documents related to a major property development involving the Tory party donor Richard Desmond.
The housing secretary Robert Jenrick intervened to wave through the £1bn Westferry Printworks development but later had to quash his own approval, conceding the decision was unlawful. He agreed to publish the papers after coming under pressure from MPs who have accused him of breaking the ministerial code.
Journalists and other observers will now be combing them for evidence of wrongdoing.
- Sir Keir Starmer has used PMQs to criticise the government’s test and trace scheme for missing most of the cases of people developing coronavirus in England. That was a “big problem”, he told MPs. In combative exchanges he also described Boris Johnson as someone who “either dodges the question or ... gives dodgy answers”. (See 1.47pm.)
- Downing Street has refused accept a call from Britain’s medical leaders for a review into how prepared the country is for a second wave of coronavirus. (See 2.46pm.)
- Nicola Sturgeon has said she is not prepared to put lives at risk “in some kind of reckless race with other parts of the UK”, as she faced criticism for maintaining the 2-metre rule for businesses despite having announced plans for school pupils to return from August with no distancing in place.
- The Department for Health and Social Care has recorded a further 154 coronavirus deaths in the UK, taking the total to 43,081. (See 4.05pm.)
- Robert Jenrick, the housing secretary, has said he will release “all relevant information” relating to a controversial £1bn development planning decision, and has admitted that he saw images of the development on the mobile phone of Tory donor Richard Desmond. Jenrick did so at the opening of a Commons debate on a Labour motion demanding publication of the papers. The motion, which took the form of a humble address (a procedure that makes it binding on the government), was later passed unopposed when the government did not vote against.
- Liz Truss, the international trade secretary, has told MPs that the UK will not allow US chlorine-washed chicken to be stocked in supermarkets as a ban is already written into law. Giving evidence to the international trade committee, she said a ban on importing chlorinated chicken was “already in UK law” as part of the Brexit withdrawal agreement ratified by parliament.
That’s all from me for today.
But the coverage continues on our global coronavirus live blog.
The Guardian’s latest Politics Weekly podcast is out. Jonathan Freedland and Kate Proctor discuss the latest in Westminster, and Peter Walker updates us on Robert Jenrick’s troubles. Plus, Miatta Fahnbulleh and Anoosh Chakelian discuss what’s next for the UK economy, post-furlough scheme.
UK records a further 154 coronavirus deaths
The Department for Health and Social Care has recorded a further 154 coronavirus deaths in the UK, taking the total to 43,081. The full figures are here.
These figures only cover the deaths of people who have tested positive for coronavirus and died. The UK figure for all deaths caused by coronavirus is more than 54,000.
For comparison, here are the equivalent daily UK figures for the past two weeks.
Wednesday 10 June - 245
Thursday 11 June - 151
Friday 12 June - 202
Saturday 13 June - 181
Sunday 14 June - 36
Monday 15 June - 38
Tuesday 16 June - 233
Wednesday 17 June - 184
Thursday 18 June - 135
Friday 19 June - 173
Saturday 20 June - 128
Sunday 21 June - 43
Monday 22 June - 15
Tuesday 23 June - 171
And in another article for the Guardian Stephen Reicher, a psychology professor and member of SPI-B, the Sage subcommittee advising the government on behavioural issues, has strongly criticised Boris Johnson’s decision to abandon the two-metre rule. Here’s an extract.
Whatever the prime minister might say, his policies lead to banner headlines such as Freedom Pass and Independence Day. But we don’t even need to read the papers. Every time we pass an open bar, it will scream to us that the danger is all but gone and we are “back to normal”. After all, who in their right mind would reopen the pubs and abandon distancing in the midst of a deadly pandemic?
But perhaps that is overstating things a little. After all, the government isn’t abandoning all distancing measures. It is saying 1 metre is acceptable when 2 metres is impossible, as long as other measures are applied. True. However, research in the field of proxemics – the study of space and social interaction – shows that, in the UK, 1 metre is roughly the distance we ordinarily maintain with others. So reducing it to 1 metre is akin to removing any restrictions from distancing, and hence functions as another signal of back to normal.
The full article is here.
UPDATE: And this is what Prof Stephen Reicher had to say about Boris Johnson’s comments about the test and trace system at PMQs.