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No.10 has refused to say business minister Nadhim Zahawi was speaking on behalf of the government when he suggested people should pay to attend Tory fundraising events if they wanted similar access to politicians as wealthy developer Richard Desmond.
Housing secretary Robert Jenrick is fighting to keep his job after documents revealed the extent of the contact between himself and Desmond, a Tory donor.
Jenrick signed off Desmond’s 1,500-home Westferry Printworks scheme in east London following a meeting at a Conservative Party event in November.
Documents published on Wednesday evening showed officials in Jenrick’s department described him as being “insistent” that the project be given the green light before a new levy added millions to the cost.
Under pressure to explain why a wealthy businessman could have such access, Zahawi this morning said anybody could deploy similar tactics.
“If people go to a fundraiser in their local area, in Doncaster (for example), for the Conservative Party, they will be sitting next to MPs and other people in their local authorities and can interact with different parts of the authority,” he told BBC Radio 4′s Today programme.
Asked about his intervention, Boris Johnson’s spokesperson refused to confirm Zahawi was speaking on behalf of the government.
“He is a government minister I just can’t comment on events relating to the Conservative party,” the spokesperson said.
But Downing Street said the prime minister had full confidence in Jenrick.
“The housing secretary has set out his account in public and in parliament, including publishing the relevant documentation. In light of this account the prime minister considers this matter closed,” the spokesperson said.
The spokesperson added “no one in No.10” discussed the application with Desmond.
“No.10 had no involvement with the secretary of state’s appeal decision,” they added.
Jenrick later had to quash his own approval, conceding that the decision was “unlawful” due to “apparent bias”.
The cabinet minister originally gave the development the go-ahead in January, overruling both Tower Hamlets Council and a planning inspector.
Desmond donated £12,000 to the Tories two weeks after Westferry was approved by Jenrick.