Jenrick met Israeli billionaire while considering rival's mining project

Housing Secretary under fresh pressure amid new allegations over Desmond affair


LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 05: Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick arrives at 10 Downing Street for a cabinet meeting on November 5, 2019 in London, England. The UK’s main parties are gearing up for a December 12 general election after the motion was carried in a bid to break the current Parliamentary deadlock over Brexit. (Photo by Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images)

Labour has called on Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick to explain a 2018 meeting with Israeli billionaire Idan Ofer, who had an interest in the future of a mining project being overseen at the time by Mr Jenrick.

Idan Ofer, an Israeli shipping and mining magnate, met  Mr Jenrick while he was serving as exchequer secretary to the Treasury in 2018.

Mr Jenrick was then overseeing a request by Sirius Minerals, a rival firm to Mr Ofer’s UK-based Cleveland Potash, for financial support for a new mine.

Sirius Minerals revealed in 2019 that the Treasury had refused its request for financial support, leaving the firm insolvent.

The corporation, which had been seeking to build Britain’s first new deep mine in 40 years, was eventually purchased by Anglo-American in January in a step that saw many small shareholders’ savings and investments wiped out.

A spokesperson for Jenrick said on Friday that Ofer was a “family friend” and that the minister had notified officials, who advised him to step back from the decision on Sirius.

Shadow housing and communities secretary, Steve Reed said: “Mr Jenrick must now tell us whether he declared his friendship with Mr Ofer to officials prior to the meeting, why he did not immediately step back from making the decisions and what further discussions he had with Mr Ofer.”

“It’s time for some honesty,” Mr Reed continued. “Mr Jenrick must come to the House of Commons to explain exactly what he’s been up to because the public are now worried that a new era of Tory sleaze has begun in earnest.”

Mr Jenrick is also facing intense scrutiny over allegations in the Sunday Times that he overrode senior civil servants’ advice not to grant planning permission for a £1bn housing project backed by Conservative donor Richard Desmond.

Mr Jenrick was reported to have been warned that granting permission to the Westferry Printworks project would be in violation of planning rules and that the project was likely to face judicial review.

The housing secretary gave the go-ahead to the scheme the day before a new tax came into force - which would have cost Mr Desmond’s developers between £30 and £50 million.

The housing secretary had previously sat next to the Daily Star and Daily Express owner at a Conservative fundraiser and had watched a promotional video of the Isle of Dogs-based project on Mr Desmond’s phone.

Mr Reed said that: “These explosive revelations show Mr Jenrick has new and very serious questions to answer.”

The Ministry of Housing and Local Government has been contacted for comment.

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