Conservative Party fundraising bosses are embroiled in a row over claims they offered dinner with the housing secretary to property developers for £4,000, Sky News can reveal.
Michael Gove refused to be sat with developers at an event at the party’s conference in Manchester earlier this month following a furious behind the scenes row. He later left the event early.
The dinner, which offered those willing to pay an opportunity to “place a preference of senior minister to host your table”, prompted concerns over the potential for conflict of interest.
A number of ministers raised questions about the guest list and a back and forth row behind the scenes ensued, as ministers sought to avoid being seated near paying guests related to their brief.
A senior minister told Sky News: “Nobody really wants to do these dinners because there is always a risk of conflict of interest but this one was a joke.
“[Conservative Party co-chair] Ben Elliot and his team push it as far as they can get away with and it puts people in an impossible position. They have some real questions to answer here.”
The event follows a controversial dinner in November 2019 during which the former housing secretary, Robert Jenrick, was seated next to party donor Richard Desmond, whose £1bn property development Mr Jenrick later approved.
Mr Jenrick’s decision was later reversed after legal action by the local council and he had to quash his own approval after conceding that the decision was “unlawful” due to “apparent bias”.
Facing allegations of cash for favours over the dinner, Mr Jenrick later admitted he regretted sitting next to Mr Desmond and said the situation could have been handled differently.
A spokesman for the Conservative Party said: “At no stage in the preparation for this event did CCHQ plan to sit Mr Gove with any property developers. Any claims to the contrary are entirely false.”
A spokesman for Mr Gove declined to comment.
Witnesses at the event said the housing secretary left early and had been “visibly frustrated” at the event.
Another cabinet minister also left early after expressing their concern about the guests invited by the Conservative Party.
Steve Reed MP, Labour’s shadow communities secretary, said: “Despite the outrage caused by the former housing secretary doing favours for a wealthy developer donor, Ben Elliot and his Conservative colleagues clearly think control of the planning system can be sold to the highest bidder.
“It is yet more conclusive proof that it’s one rule for the Conservatives and their wealthy developer backers and another rule for everyone else.”
The row raises questions for party fundraiser and co-chair Mr Elliot, who was recently pressed over whether strict fundraising guidelines had been followed.
Mohamed Amersi, a leading party donor, recently told Sky News that there should be a “special investigation” into “potential conflicts of interest surrounding Mr Elliot”.
A senior Tory source added: “The whole thing was a farce and the fundraising operation over there needs a total reality check.
“They really don’t help themselves with situations like this. Ben Elliott needs to answer for this.”