The prime minister has offered his support to embattled Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick, saying he still has "full confidence" in the minister despite a row over his controversial decision to award a development project to Tory donor Richard Desmond.
Opposition MPs have been calling for Mr Jenrick to resign, saying he broke the ministerial code when he overruled a planning inspector to approve an application made by Mr Desmond to build the Westferry Printworks redevelopment scheme in east London.
Mr Jenrick made the decision after sitting next to media mogul Mr Desmond at a Tory fundraising event and being shown about “three or four minutes” of promotional video about the project.
According to Mr Desmond, after watching the video, Mr Jenrick told him "sorry Richard. I can’t discuss it".
The Cabinet minister then granted permission for the 1,500-flat development, the day before a new council community levy would have cost Mr Desmond’s company an extra £40 million.
The decision was later reversed after legal action by Tower Hamlets Council and Mr Jenrick admitted what he did was “unlawful by reason of apparent bias”.
Following a Sunday Times investigation which revealed Mr Jenrick had got the "gist" of the project after been shown the video at the November fundraiser, the prime minister's spokesman was again asked about the issue.
Downing Street attempted to distance itself from the row, with the spokesman telling reporters: “No one in No 10 has discussed this with Mr Desmond or the applicant.
“No 10 has no involvement with the Secretary of State’s appeal decision.”
Asked whether No 10 knew Mr Jenrick had watched the promotional video during a fundraising dinner, the spokesman said: “What the Communities Secretary has said is that he is confident that all the rules were followed in taking the decision and he has rejected the suggestion that there was any actual bias in the decision”.
Mr Jenrick has said he did not discuss the development at the Westferry Printworks in east London with Mr Desmond and has told MPs he acted in “good faith” and “within the rules”.
Cabinet Secretary Sir Mark Sedwill has been tasked with carrying out a review into the handling of the development.
Mr Desmond, who used to own the Express and Star newspapers, told the Sunday Times: “What I did was I showed him the video,” adding that the minister viewed it for about “three or four minutes” at the November fundraiser.
Two weeks after the Cabinet minister stepped in to approve the housing scheme, Electoral Commission records show that Mr Desmond personally gave £12,000 to the Conservatives.
Mr Desmond told the Sunday Times he was paying for the price of his ticket to the event by making the donation.
Former Channel 5 owner Mr Desmond has donated to both the Tories and Ukip in the past.