It’s not only Dominic Cummings that Boris Johnson has refused to sack. He is also protecting housing secretary Robert Jenrick, despite repeated allegations of what looks like corruption.
And part of the reason may be that Johnson himself is embroiled in the scandal.
The Jenrick case centres on a 1,500 home development at the former Westferry printing works in East London.
The developer, former Daily Express owner Richard Desmond, personally gave the Conservative Party £12,000 two weeks after the scheme was approved in January.
The development had previously been rejected by the local council and the government’s planning inspectorate. Jenrick’s decision to overrule the rejections was made just 24 hours before the council increased the financial penalties it asks developers to pay for infrastructure, known as CIL payments.
This potentially saved Desmond up to £45 million. This money would have been spent by the council on its poorer communities and funding health and education provision.
Desmond seemed to regard the right wing Labour Tower Hamlets council as “Marxist” (see below).
It later emerged Jenrick had sat next to Desmond, and three of his company’s executives, at a Conservative Party fundraising dinner in November 2019.
Jenrick is also accused of overruling his advisers to reduce the amount of affordable housing required in the development, potentially saving Desmond a further £106 million.
Jenrick’s decision was later challenged by Tower Hamlets Council, forcing the secretary of state to back down and say what he did was “unlawful by reason of apparent bias”.
Jenrick told MPs last week that he alerted his officials to his relationship with Desmond in December 2019—after he had asked them to speed up the project.
However one anonymous civil servant working on the Westferry application has said, “I can confirm that at no point did Mr Jenrick or his special advisers alert us to the fundraiser dinner he attended with Mr Desmond or the short conversation he had with him about the application.”
It was Boris Johnson who first opened the door to Desmond’s scheme.
Johnson had three meetings with Desmond, including drinks at the five-star Corinthia Hotel in Westminster in 2015, when he was Mayor of London, before approving a housing scheme on the Westferry site.
Desmond’s company, Northern & Shell, then promptly submitted a second application that almost doubled the size of the development, with 1,524 homes in five towers.
This was the one that Jenrick eventually approved.
Desmond also revealed last weekend that Johnson had committed to easing gambling rules to assist his Health Lottery.
Johnson has insisted Jenrick’s job was safe. He has also swerved questions about his own relationship with Desmond after pictures appeared last week of the pair hugging.
It’s reported that Desmond has attended Tory party fundraisers and Downing Street drinks receptions in the last year.
Jenrick should go now.
18 November 2019
This was the day of a Tory fundraising dinner where Jenrick sat next to Desmond.
Text message from Jenrick: “Good to spend time with you tonight Richard. See you again soon I hope.” Desmond replied, “Thanks Robert I really appreciate your text.”
20 November 2019
Text message from Desmond: “Your efficient PA has arranged a meeting for 19 December for meet and site visit. We appreciate the speed as we don’t want to give Marxists loads of doe [dough?] for nothing!”
Text message from Jenrick: “Richard. 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.
23 December 2019
Text message from Desmond: “Morning Robert. We have to get the approval before January 15 otherwise payment of 45 million pounds to Tower Hamlets.”
9 January 2020
Email from Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government official: “On timing, my understanding is that SoS is/was insistent that decision issued this week i.e tomorrow—as next week the viability of the scheme is impacted by a change in the London CIL regime.”
On 14 January the development was approved by Jenrick.
Johnson gives big business what they want
When he was mayor of London Boris Johnson was eager to deliver what developers wanted.
He told the summit of the ultra-rich in Davos in 2014 that he was on a mission to persuade the owners of “some truly whopping chequebooks” to invest in London.
The same year he backed the privatised Royal Mail’s proposals for the Mount Pleasant sorting office site. He took over the planning decision before Camden and Islington Councils had even had a chance to consider the application.
A mere 24 percent of the housing approved by Johnson was “affordable”. Royal Mail went on to sell the site at a 565 percent mark up to developer Taylor Wimpey for £193 million.
In 2013 Johnson overturned Southwark council’s objection to a proposed free school project in Bermondsey. It included 158 flats in two buildings, one a 19-storey tower block. The school attracted a maximum of 60 children and closed abruptly in February 2017.
Johnson also backed the Battersea Power Station redevelopment, approved by him with just 12 percent affordable housing. Wandsworth council subsequently allowed the developer to reduce this to 9 percent.
Johnson’s record on affordable housing was so poor that in his last year in office he oversaw planning permissions that granted only 13 percent affordable homes.
The billionaire Tory donor
Richard Desmond is a billionaire media baron who made vast amounts of money from pornography and then moved on to property development.
He is the former owner of Express Newspapers and founder of Northern & Shell, which publishes various celebrity magazines, such as OK! and New!, and the newspapers Daily Star and Daily Express.
Desmond made millions from pornographic magazines such as Asian Babes and Nude Wives and later branched out into satellite porn channels such as Television X and Red Hot.
According to the Sunday Times Rich List he is worth around £2 billion.