Labour have referred housing secretary Robert Jenrick to the parliamentary commissioner for standards to seek an investigation into his dealings with billionaire developer Richard Desmond.

In a letter to commissioner Kathryn Stone, shadow housing secretary Steve Reed urged the sleaze watchdog to investigate whether Mr Jenrick had breached the code of conduct requiring MPs to behave with “probity and integrity” in relation to his approval of Mr Desmond’s application for a £1bn property development in Westferry, east London.

Boris Johnson has resisted calls to open an inquiry into whether Mr Jenrick breached the separate code of conduct for minister. He expressed his full confidence in the minister, and his top civil servant, cabinet secretary Sir Mark Sedwill said in a letter that the prime minister regards the case as “closed”.

Sharing the full story, not just the headlines

But pressure on the PM heightened as it was revealed that Mr Johnson and Mr Desmond were pictured together at a Tory fund-raising event in November.

An explosive cache of correspondence released earlier this week showed that Mr Jenrick was “insistent” that the Westferry case should be completed before the introduction of new planning regulations which would have cost the developer more than £40m. The housing secretary overruled the local council and planning inspector, but later quashed his own approval of the scheme after accepting it was “unlawful”.

Mr Reed said: “The prime minister can’t just sweep this issue under the carpet.

“There are still so many unanswered questions about Robert Jenrick’s unlawful attempt to help Richard Desmond dodge £150m in tax days before he made a generous donation to the Conservative Party.

“The prime minister has yet again shown woefully poor judgment by not referring clear breaches of the ministerial code to the cabinet secretary and he must now come clean himself about his own involvement in this case.

“The government must publish all the remaining secret documents in this case to show the public what Mr Jenrick and the prime minister were really up to and prove that this is not the start of a new era of Tory sleaze.”

In his letter, Mr Reed listed five “apparent breaches” of the code of conduct, and Ms Stone will now consider whether any of them merits launching an inquiry into Mr Jenrick’s actions.

Mr Reed said that the documents released this week made clear that the housing secretary had delayed a month before notifying a meeting with Mr Desmond to officials in his Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. He said that Mr Jenrick exchanged phone numbers with Mr Desmond when they were at the fundraising dinner in November and exchanged messages and asked a staff member to arrange a further meeting and site visit before declaring his contact with Desmond to officials.

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The Labour MP said there were “significant discrepancies” between Mr Jenrick’s account of having briefly looked at a promotional video about the Westferry scheme and Mr Desmond’s claim that he viewed it for three or four minutes and thanked him for showing it to him.

Mr Reed alleged that the nature and tone of Mr Jenrick’s exchanges with Mr Desmond, and his comment that he wished to avoid the appearance of bias, “imply that the Secretary of State wanted to do favours for Mr Desmond without being seen to do so.

And the shadow housing secretary said that Mr Jenrick’s indication that he wanted the development approved before Tower Hamlets’ new Community Infrastructure Levy came into force on 15 January appeared to show him “acting on the instruction of the applicant” in a way that made his decision biased.

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