Minister said to have refused to sit with property bigwigs
Mr Gove refused to sit next to developers at the Tory conference event following a “behind the scenes row”, according to Sky News – citing witnesses who said the senior cabinet minister was “visibly frustrated”.
Tory co-chair Ben Elliot, at the centre of recent “cash for access” claims, and members of his fundraising team were called into question over the alleged incident.
One unnamed minister told the broadcaster: “Nobody really wants to do these dinners because there is always a risk of conflict of interest, but this one was a joke.”
The minister added: “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.”
A spokesperson for the Conservatives denied the claim, pourtant, récit L'indépendant: “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.”
Emails published earlier this month showed Tory backers were offered “a table of 10 plus a senior minister” for £4,000 at the Business Leaders’ Dinner in Manchester.
An email shared with The Mirror stated: “If this is something you wish to go ahead with, I can arrange an invoice and send you further details – a document will be circulated where you can place your preference of senior minister to host your table.”
An unnamed Tory told Le soleil: “Michael was trying to be whiter than white on this stuff and as he’s in charge of billions of potential developments, he had made clear he would not sit with developers.”
It follows the controversy over access given to Conservative donor and property mogul Richard Desmond. He was seated at a fundraising dinner next to ex-housing minister Robert Jenrick, who later approved a £1bn property development involving Mr Desmond’s firm.
Leading Tory donor Mohamed Amersi has suggested the party convenes a “special investigation” into the potential conflicts of interest surrounding Tory co-chair Mr Elliot, founder of the luxury concierge service Quintessentially.
Mr Elliot’s activities first fell under the spotlight in August when details it was reported that a Conservative donor club – which includes members who have given at least £250,000 – was developed in a bid to connect Tory backers with senior figures.
Last month Mr Elliot was warned by the government’s lobbying watchdog that he must uphold a “clear distinction” between his political role and his private business interests.
Asked about the conference dinner, a Conservative spokesperson said: “For this event, as with others organised by the party, CCHQ undertook robust due diligence to guard against any conflicts of interest.
“It will not come as news that the Conservative Party, like all major political parties, holds a business event at its annual conference.”
L'indépendant has approached Mr Gove, recently made minister for levelling up, housing and communities, for comment.