Starmer on beergate row: ‘There was no party, no breach of rules’

Sir Keir Starmer maintained his innocence over claims he broke lockdown rules as further information emerged about the day of the beer and curry row.

David Hughes
Saturday 07 May 2022 20:02
Leader Sir Keir Starmer makes a statement outside Labour Party headquarters (PA)
Leader Sir Keir Starmer makes a statement outside Labour Party headquarters (PA)

Sir Keir Starmer insisted he will lead Labour into the next general election and is confident he did not break lockdown laws by having a beer and curry at a campaign event.

The Labour leader’s assertion came as a leaked memo indicated the takeaway in Durham had been planned as part of his itinerary for the day of campaigning in April 2021 and, no further work was scheduled after the dinner.

Senior Tories accused Sir Keir of hypocrisy over the row after the Labour leader had demanded the Prime Minister’s resignation over alleged lockdown breaches in No 10.

At the time of the Durham gathering, non-essential retail and outdoor venues including pub gardens were open, but social distancing rules – which included a ban on indoor mixing between households – remained in place.

Sir Keir previously said no restaurants or pubs were open at the time of the alleged breach so “if you didn’t get a takeaway then our team wasn’t eating that evening”.

Labour has also indicated that Sir Keir was working, so the meal did not constitute a social event.

The leaked memo published by the Mail on Sunday showed that the dinner in Durham had been listed on the schedule for Sir Keir’s day in April 2021 during the local election and Hartlepool by-election campaigns.

The document states that there would be a “dinner in Miners Hall” with City of Durham MP Mary Foy from 8.40pm to 10pm – and a note indicates a member of staff in Sir Keir’s office was to arrange the takeaway curry from the Spice Lounge.

The only business listed after the dinner is for Sir Keir to walk back to his hotel – he has previously claimed he “paused for food” and continued working after the meal, saying “the idea that nobody works at 10 o’clock at night is absurd”.

Separately, a source who was present told the Sunday Times :”It has been claimed that Starmer worked during the curry and then after the curry. None of those two things happened. He did not go back to work to the best of my knowledge.”

The source said some of those present were not working at all, and “were just there for a jolly”.

A spokesman for the Leader of the Opposition’s office said: “Keir was working, a takeaway was made available in the kitchen, and he ate between work demands. No rules were broken.”

Timings for events frequently slip during a campaign and on the day of the curry the takeaway was late, a source said.

Durham Constabulary confirmed on Friday it was investigating claims the evening event attended by the Labour leader with other senior party figures and activists last year might have broken the pandemic regulations.

But Sir Keir, a former director of public prosecutions, told reporters on Saturday: “As I have explained a number of times, I was working in the office, we stopped for something to eat.

“There was no party, no breach of rules, I am confident of that.”

Speaking during a visit to Scotland, the Labour leader said: “The police have obviously got to do their job but meanwhile I am here in Scotland because we have had a fantastic set of results.”

He also said that while he has called for Prime Minister Boris Johnson to quit after he was fined for attending a party at Westminster during lockdown, he would not be resigning.

Asked if he would be the person leading the party into the next Westminster election campaign, Sir Keir said: “I will be taking them into that general election, I am really pleased.”

Foreign Office minister James Cleverly said: “Starmer claimed it was an impromptu curry. Turns out it was pre-planned.

“Starmer claimed nowhere served food. Turns out that loads of places did.

“(Angela) Rayner claimed she wasn’t there. Turns out she was. Hypocrisy and dishonesty in equal measure.”

Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries said: “It was a lie. No break in a work meeting. No pieces to camera, but a pre-arranged social dinner at which Rayner, Foy, and Starmer were present.”

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi told Times Radio: “We’ve got to let the police carry out their investigation and that’s only right and responsible.

“I do think, though, that the public will be uncomfortable with the hypocrisy. I think he’s used one in three of his PMQs to talk about parties instead of focusing on the cost of living.

“He has tweeted himself saying that if you’re under investigation, a criminal investigation, then you should resign.”

In January, Sir Keir said the Prime Minister “needs to do the decent thing and resign” after he became embroiled in lockdown breach allegations.

Mr Johnson, his wife Carrie Johnson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak are among those to have already been fined for breaking Covid laws.

Durham Police said they had reversed an earlier decision on the case that no offence had been committed, after receiving “significant new information”.

Police have not said what sparked the probe but The Times reported a “key factor” was confirmation that deputy leader Ms Rayner attended the evening. Labour had previously denied she had been present.

The Daily Telegraph said the so-called “beergate” investigation will take up to six weeks, with those suspected of having breached lockdown rules due to be sent questionnaires.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan said it was “a million miles away from what Boris Johnson was found to have done”.

He aded: “The Prime Minister, who makes the rules, breaking the rules. But also a culture in Downing Street where it’s bring your own bottles, it’s karaoke machines, it’s garden parties.

“Very, very different to what Keir is alleged to have done.”

But former shadow home secretary Diane Abbott said Sir Keir should “consider his position” if he is fined.

She told LBC: “I think this is a lot of hype built up by the Tory press, but if he were to get a fixed penalty notice he would have to consider his position.”

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