Robert Jenrick controversy was factor in ethics adviser’s resignation

Alex Allan resigned when Boris Johnson overruled his advice on Priti Patel. But a row over the housing secretary also played a role

Boris Johnson’s failure to authorise an inquiry into the controversial approval of a £1bn homes project by his housing secretary, Robert Jenrick, also played a role in the recent resignation of the prime minister’s ethics adviser.

Alex Allan quit his position last month after the prime minister overruled his advice and cleared the home secretary, Priti Patel, of bullying allegations.

Legal and Whitehall sources have revealed, however, that Allan was already concerned that the prime minister had not requested an inquiry to examine the controversy around Jenrick’s backing for a housing development by billionaire Richard Desmond that would help the Tory party donor avoid tax of £45m.

After sitting beside Desmond at a fundraising dinner, Jenrick overruled the local authority Tower Hamlets in east London and the government planning inspectorate to give permission for the development. Desmond donated £12,000 to the party a fortnight after permission was granted.

Johnson had sole authority to request an inquiry into Jenrick’s conduct when the revelations emerged over the summer, a process that would have been overseen by Allan. Jenrick has denied any wrongdoing or bias but admitted his decision had been “unlawful by reason of apparent bias”.

John Biggs, the Labour mayor of Tower Hamlets, said Allan’s apparent disquiet on several issues reflected what he called a “comprehensive ethical vacuum” at the heart of government.

He added: “This doesn’t remotely surprise me. The failure to act shows a more comprehensive ethical vacuum.”

Meanwhile, new polling shows the extent to which Johnson’s decision to overrule Allan’s advice and stand by Patel, despite a report that concluded her behaviour had breached the ministerial code, has harmed the government.

Nearly half (43%) of the British public say their confidence in the government decreased because of its handling of the bullying claims, according to the survey by Opinium with Compassion in Politics.

A fifth of Conservative supporters said that confidence in their own party had been reduced by the issue.

Alex Thomas, programme director at the Institute for Government, said the Jenrick and Desmond saga exposed the situation whereby the prime minister has the absolute authority to launch misconduct investigations and also has the final say in their outcomes.

Thomas, who was a senior civil servant for 17 years, and was civil service head Jeremy Heywood’s private secretary from 2016 to 2018, added: “It’s important that allegations are investigated and it’s also important that there is an independent oversight. For the health of the system, [the issue] would benefit from a proper investigation without prejudice to the outcome.”


Mark Townsend

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Riddle of Tory minister Jenrick, the media mogul and a £1bn housing development
Revelations about secretive meetings on government plans to overhaul the property sector raise further questions about the links between senior Conservatives and Richard Desmond

Jamie Doward

14, Jun, 2020 @7:35 AM

Article image
Boris Johnson backs Robert Jenrick despite planning row
Senior MP says questions remain over links between housing secretary and Richard Desmond

Heather Stewart and Rajeev Syal

25, Jun, 2020 @12:23 PM

Article image
Peers call on Jenrick to explain opposition to smoke-free zones
Communities secretary echoed arguments of tobacco companies when he warned Manchester council over smoke-free zones

Jamie Doward

13, Sep, 2020 @7:02 AM

Article image
The Robert Jenrick planning row explained
Housing secretary’s approval of £1bn development has come under increasing scrutiny

Heather Stewart and Rajeev Syal

24, Jun, 2020 @7:17 PM

Article image
Officials ‘blocked access to witness’ in Priti Patel inquiry
Sir Alex Allan made repeated attempts to interview former top Home Office civil servant Sir Philip Rutnam, but was stymied

Mark Townsend and Toby Helm

21, Nov, 2020 @6:13 PM

Article image
Give refugees crossing Channel a chance, say Windrush survivors
Priti Patel risks replicating Home Office failings that led to scandal, victims and human rights campaigners warn

Mark Townsend

15, Aug, 2020 @1:15 PM

Article image
The Guardian view on Robert Jenrick and the planning row: Tories and their friends | Editorial
Editorial: The minister admits he acted unlawfully over Richard Desmond’s case. But questions remain unanswered


24, Jun, 2020 @5:56 PM

Article image
Outrage at U-turn on promise to reunite child refugees with UK family
Charities fear for safety of lone youngsters as draft text of Brexit negotiations shows Britain wants to end sanctuary

Mark Townsend

24, May, 2020 @6:19 AM

Article image
Priti Patel’s fury as Johnson blocks public sexual harassment law
Home Office fears PM views aggressive targeting of women and girls as ‘mere wolf whistling’ amid moves to create specific offence

Mark Townsend Home affairs editor

09, Oct, 2021 @8:26 PM

Article image
Labour reports Robert Jenrick to parliamentary watchdog
Minister accused of rushing planning decision to help Tory donor Richard Desmond

Rajeev Syal

26, Jun, 2020 @11:38 AM