Senior Conservatives have accused Sir Keir Starmer of “rank hypocrisy” over the Durham beer and curry event being investigated by police for a possible breach of coronavirus lockdown laws.
Pressure is growing on the Labour leader, after a leaked memo indicated the beer and curry 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.
Sir Keir’s allies maintained the curry was consumed between work events, meaning it was within the rules despite the ban on indoor socialising, however, the Labour leader has pulled out of a keynote speech he is due to give today as pressure increases on these claims.
Asked if Sir Keir should quit, Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab told Sky News: “It’s the rank double standards that drive people crazy.
“He needs to fess up and answer all of the holes in the account that he gave for that beer-and-curry event in Durham.”
He added: “Keir Starmer looks like, I’m afraid, someone who is engaged in complete hypocrisy, complete double standards and I don’t think he is going to get past that until he gives a proper account of what happened in Durham.”
Shadow shadow secretary of state for levelling up, housing and communities Lisa Nandy said: “It’s about time that this Government just gave up with this desperate attempt and went for the sake of this country.”
Asked if it was found Sir Keir broke the law, should he resign, she told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge On Sunday: “Look, I’m not going to get into that, because I’m absolutely confident that he hasn’t broken the law.”
What is ‘beergate’ all about?
The ‘beergate’ controversy centres around footage which emerged of Sir Keir having a beer with colleagues in April last year. This was largely dismissed originally as a politically motivated counter attack against Partygate from the right-wing press.
But the scandal is cutting through more widely now, as more details emerge and Tory MPs accuse Sir Keir of hypocrisy.
That’s despite one Daily Mail piece using a photo of Sir Keir taken from a 2015 article, which Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries then shared on Twitter.
Sir Keir was also forced to admit that his office had made a “genuine mistake” by wrongly claiming his deputy Angela Rayner was not there on the night.
The Sun reported that Met Police bodyguards, who had accompanied Sir Keir to Durham, witnessed the Labour leader and aides drinking beers and eating a £200 order of curry.
According to the newspaper, witnesses suggest dozens of MPs and aides gathered at Durham Miners’ Hall, with the police car still there late into the evening.
What does the leaked memo say?
The leaked memo published by the Mail on Sunday on 8 May 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 at the event with Sir Keir and deputy leader Angela Rayner were not working at all, and “were just there for a jolly”.
Police to investigate
Durham Constabulary said Sir Keir would be investigated following the receipt of “significant new information”.
The U-turn follows mounting pressure on the force to re-examine the ‘beergate’ allegations after footage emerged of the Labour leader drinking a beer with reportedly up to 30 colleagues at a constituency office in Durham in April 2021 during campaigning for the Hartlepool by-election.
At the time of the 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.
Durham Police had been asked by Conservative MP Richard Holden, North West Durham, to reconsider their assessment that no offence was committed during the meeting.
But what is the background to ‘beergate’, what’s been said from both sides, and how does it compare to the ‘Partygate’ scandal that has engulfed the Tories?
What have the police said?
A police statement on Friday afternoon said: “Earlier this year, Durham Constabulary carried out an assessment as to whether Covid-19 regulations had been breached at a gathering in Durham City on April 30 2021.
“At that time, it was concluded that no offence had been established and therefore no further action would be taken.
“Following the receipt of significant new information over recent days, Durham Constabulary has reviewed that position and now, following the conclusion of the pre-election period, we can confirm that an investigation into potential breaches of Covid-19 regulations relating to this gathering is now being conducted.”
The force did not elaborate on the new information.
Police previously said they did do not believe “an offence has been established in relation to the legislation and guidance in place at that time and will therefore take no further action in relation to this matter”.
What has Sir Keir said?
The Labour leader was marking some successes in the local elections in England, but the results have been overshadowed by news of the investigation on Friday.
He has insisted there was “no party” when he was asked about police opting to investigate claims he breached lockdown rules last April by drinking beer with colleagues.
Speaking to reporters, the Labour leader said: “As I’ve explained a number of times, we were working in the office, we stopped for something to eat – no party, no breach of the rules.
“The police obviously have got their job to do, we should let them get on with it.
“But I’m confident that no rules were broken.
“Meanwhile, we’ve had a really good set of results today.”
Asked what the difference was in the event the Prime Minister was fined for and the allegation against the Labour leader, Sir Keir Starmer said there was “no breach of the rules”.
He told a reporter: “Well I was working, I stopped for something to eat, no party, no breach of the rules.
“Obviously I understand the police need to do their job, we need to let them get on with that but I’m confident there was no breach of the rules.”
How does beergate compare to Partygate?
The Tories and sections of the media have latched on to the ‘beergate’ story, sensing an opportunity to damage Labour at a time when it’s gaining some ground on the Government.
However, while the Starmer incident involves one event that took place at a time when indoor gatherings were legal if “reasonably necessary”, the allegations against Downing Street concern around 17 parties that took place at various stages of the lockdown, and more than 50 fixed penalty notices have been issued as a result.
Shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves insisted on BBC Breakfast there is a “world of difference” between the industrial scale of rule-breaking at Number 10 and the Labour leader’s “beergate” affair.
She said: “The Prime Minister and the Chancellor have been fined by the Metropolitan Police whereas Durham police – where this alleged incident took place – said there’s no case to answer.
“The police have been very clear that in 10 Downing Street rule-breaking did happen and in Durham, Keir Starmer did not break the rules.
“Boris Johnson has lied and lied again, and then covered up the lies to Parliament about what happened at number 10.
“There is a world of difference between the rule-breaking and the fines that the Prime Minister and his office have received compared to what Keir did – which is basically working all day in an office and stopping to have some food and a drink.”
However, if Durham Police do issue a fine to Sir Keir, it will be difficult to see how he can continue as Labour leader, given his previous comments about Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak.