Corn-fed Robert Jenrick stayed in coop as brickbats flew

Corn-fed Robert Jenrick stayed in his coop as brickbats flew: HENRY DEEDES watches as Housing Secretary’s deputy Chris Pincher tries to defend his boss

Bwok, bwok, bwarrrrk! Chicken alert! Parliament bagged itself a new premier poulet yesterday. 

This was not just any chicken, a la those grating M&S ads. This was a prized bantam.  Free-range, corn-fed, the whole kit and caboodle. 

Behold, Robert Jenrick, our plump-round- the-chops Housing Secretary, who was summoned to the chamber early doors to answer an ‘urgent question’ from Labour.

Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick (pictured) is facing criticism after allegations over the signing off of a £1billion development by a Tory donor

Instead of emerging to face the brickbats, he chose to remain firmly in his coop. 

Was he hoping to bury his beak in a pile of grain until trouble had passed? Such behaviour, I fear, will do nothing to reinforce Mr Jenrick’s image one bit. 

What a marshmallowy character he is. A twice-weekly shaver at best, would be my guess.

The UQ concerned Jenrick’s recent dealings with Richard Desmond, a one-time purveyor of exotic reading matter turned billionaire property developer.

No sooner had the minister’s department unlawfully approved a £1billion housing  development Mr Desmond was proposing in London’s Docklands than a generous £12,000 donation was made to the Conservatives in January.

Mr Jenrick’s department unlawfully approved billionaire property developer Robert Desmond’s  £1billion housing development in the London Docklands (pictured), before a generous £12,000 donation was made to the Conservatives

If there’s a smell test for these things this was surely more pungent than a pot of ammonia.

In Jenrick’s absence, we heard from his deputy Chris Pincher, a slight chap with the browbeaten looks of a man accustomed to thankless tasks such as these.

The defence he served up of his boss was worthy of a greasing courtier.

Mr Jenrick considered every planning application ‘fairly and on its own merits,’ he said.

He was committed to the ‘probity of the planning process at all levels’. He has always acted with utmost integrity… yada yada …

Pincher waffled slowly, selecting each word with the care of a spinal surgeon. A cynical man might have accused him of deliberately running the clock down. 

Steve Reed (Lab, Croydon N) raised the timing of Mr Desmond’s donation. ‘An astonishing coincidence,’ he scoffed.

Pincher revealed the donation had come in the form of ticket Mr Desmond purchased to a Tory fundraising dinner.

Ministers had nothing to do with ticket sales or donations, he remarked, his face beaming with innocence. Everything had been done in the ‘proper and usual way’.

Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi (Lab, Slough) pointed out that Desmond had sat on the same table as Jenrick at that same dinner.

Had he demanded he do so? 

‘I have no idea what Mr Desmond asked for at that dinner, where he wished to be seated or who made the decision on where he was seated,’ Pincher replied with the airy voice of someone filing their nails.

Mr Jenrick’s deputy, Chris Pincher, revealed the donation had come in the form of ticket Mr Desmond (pictured) purchased to a Tory fundraising dinner.

After forking out twelve grand on a rubber chicken dinner, one suspects Mr Desmond could have sat on Boris’s lap for the evening if he had chosen to.

This was murky stuff yet the atmosphere remained surprisingly mild. Fury was largely absent. 

Had this occurred in pre-coronavirus times, my hunch is there would have been a lot more frothy mouths around the chamber.

Conservative MPs tested Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle’s patience by asking irrelevant questions. James Daly (Con, Bury N) brought up some nonsense about housing in Manchester.

‘It might be helpful if Members were to go and read what the Urgent Question is about,’ Sir Lindsay barked.

When Kevin Hollinrake (Con, Thirsk & Malton) tried to ask about social housing, he was told to sit down and be quiet. In the face of some pretty gamey evidence, Pincher held firm for forty minutes.

The fiercest flak came from north of the border. Alan Brown (SNP, Kilmarnock and Loudoun) drew parallels with the ‘Dominic Cummings affair’. 

‘In sticking by Jenrick, the Government would be ‘defending the indefensible,’ he said. ‘The matter simply stinks.’

Richard Thomson (SNP, Gordon) demanded to know why Jenrick hadn’t bothered to show up for questioning himself. Pincher declined to answer.

Someone later claimed to have spotted the minister cowering in the Commons tea rooms.

Even with everything else that’s going on, I’m not sure he’s going be able to hide from this forever.

 Minister ducks ‘cash for favours’ quiz over donor

By John Stevens, Deputy Political Editor

Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick dodged MPs’ questions yesterday over his unlawful approval of a £1billion planning application by a Tory donor.

The Cabinet minister is embroiled in a ‘cash for favours’ row over the Daily Mail’s revelation that billionaire property developer Richard Desmond gave £12,000 to the Tories a fortnight after Mr Jenrick gave his scheme the go-ahead.

Mr Jenrick yesterday failed to turn up in the Commons and instead sent junior housing minister Chris Pincher to respond to an urgent question.

Robert Jenrick (pictured) dodged questions from MPs in Parliament today by not turning up to the House of Commons to face allegations over his unlawful approval of a £1billion planning application by a Tory donor in January

The Mail revealed that billionaire property developer Richard Desmond gave £12,000 to the Tories a fortnight after Mr Jenrick unlawfully gave his £1billion scheme the go-ahead

Mr Pincher insisted the Housing Secretary had acted properly and with propriety over the 1,500-home project.

But Labour shadow housing secretary Steve Reed warned it raises ‘grave concerns about cash for favours’. 

He added: ‘The public needs reassurance the integrity of the planning process cannot be auctioned off at Conservative Party fundraising dinners.’

On January 14 Mr Jenrick overruled a local council and Government planning inspectors to approve plans to redevelop as housing an ex-printworks in east London. 

It came a day before the council approved a levy on developments that would have cost Mr Desmond’s firm up to £50million. 

Mr Desmond gave £12,000 to the Tories on January 28. 

Mr Jenrick later accepted his decision to approve the plans was ‘unlawful by reason of apparent bias’.

Junior housing minister Chris Pincher (pictured) answered questions on Mr Jenrick’s behalf in the House of Commons on Thursday

Yesterday, Mr Pincher said Mr Jenrick ‘has no relationship with’ Mr Desmond even though they sat on the same table at a Tory fundraising dinner in November. 

He said Mr Jenrick had not known about the donation.

Boris Johnson’s spokesman insisted he had full confidence in Mr Jenrick and said his decision to send a junior minister in his place to answer Commons questions was ‘appropriate’.

Lib Dem acting leader Sir Ed Davey asked Cabinet Secretary Sir Mark Sedwill last night to find out if the ministerial code had been breached. 

John Biggs, mayor of Tower Hamlets in East London, called for a government inquiry.

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