Labour 'can show Keir Starmer did not break lockdown rules' after vow to resign

9 May 2022, 15:40 | Updated: 10 May 2022, 00:18

Sir Keir Starmer and Angela Rayner have vowed to resign if police find they broke coronavirus rules
Sir Keir Starmer and Angela Rayner have vowed to resign if police find they broke coronavirus rules. Picture: Alamy

By Emma Soteriou

Labour believes it can show Sir Keir Starmer did not break lockdown rules after the party leader vowed he would resign if he is fined by police.

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In a dramatic statement on Monday, Sir Keir said he would do the "right thing" if he was issued with a fixed penalty notice in relation to a gathering in Labour offices in Durham in April last year.

Deputy leader Angela Rayner - who was also present - has said she too would stand down if she is fined.

The move is being seen a huge gamble after Durham police announced last week officers would reopen an investigation into the event where Sir Keir drank beer and ate curry.

However, Labour sources are confident they can prove it was a work event and that those present were taking a break to eat while working late on preparations for the Hartlepool by-election.

The party has compiled time-stamped logs from WhatsApp chats, documents and video edits, showing they carried on working after the takeaway was delivered - continuing to 1am, The Guardian reported.

A party source said: "We have been totally clear that no rules were broken. We will provide documentary evidence that people were working before and after stopping to have food."

Read more: Civil servant's security passes to be tracked in Whitehall to stop staff working from home

Speaking at party headquarters in London, the Labour leader said on Monday that he did not believe that the rules had been broken.

But he added: "I believe in honour, integrity and the principle that those who make the rules must follow them."

The Labour leader's statement came after he pulled out of a keynote speech.

During his address, Sir Keir said: "Ever since the first Covid lockdown I have always followed the rules.

"People were left desperately lonely. They were separated from family and friends. Tragically, many were unable to see dying loved ones.

"This was a collective sacrifice. People were entitled to expect that politicians would follow the same rules as everyone else.

"When my mother-in-law passed away suddenly just before the first lockdown, my wife and I were unable to provide her father the support we wanted afterwards because we followed the rules.

"Barely a day has passed where we haven’t agonised over that decision. But we did it, because we followed the rules.

"We all found following those rules frustrating at times, I’m no exception to that. I had to isolate six times during Covid, pulling me away from my work and the things I love. But I did it, because we followed the rules.

Read more: Tories slam Starmer 'hypocrisy' after leaked memo reveals 'Beergate bash' was pre-planned

Sir Keir has said he will do the "right thing" and step down if he is fined by police for breaking Covid regulation
Sir Keir has said he will do the "right thing" and step down if he is fined by police for breaking Covid regulation. Picture: Alamy

"The idea that I would then casually break those rules is wrong, and frankly I don’t believe those accusing me believe it themselves. They are just trying to feed cynicism, so the public to believe all politicians are the same.

"But I am here to say they are not. I believe in honour, integrity and the principle that those who make the laws must follow them.

"And I believe that politicians who undermine that principle undermine trust in politics, undermine our democracy and undermine Britain.

"I am absolutely clear that no laws were broken. They were followed at all times. I simply had something to eat whilst working late in the evening, as any politician would do days before an election.

"But if the police decide to issue me with a fixed penalty notice I would, of course, do the right thing and step down.

"This matters. It matters because the British public deserve politicians who think the rules apply to them.

"They deserve politicians who hold themselves to the highest standards, and they deserve politicians who put the country first rather than themselves. They will always get that from me."

One Government minister later accused Sir Keir of "attempting to pressure the police into clearing him" by making clear a fine would spell the end of his leadership.

Tech minister Chris Philp said the Labour leader's statement was "deeply inappropriate".

However shadow attorney general Emily Thornberry said that it was Tory MPs who had been calling for the inquiry to be reopened who were seeking to pressurise the police.

"Anyone standing back and looking at this with an open mind can see that attempts have been made to put pressure on Durham Police," she told LBC.

"The Tory MPs have been tweeting at them, writing to them. What's the point in doing that if it isn't to put pressure on them?"

Read more: Distraught LBC caller breaks down after revealing she eats just one meal a week

Angela Rayner, Labour's Deputy Leader, said in a statement after Sir Keir's speech: "I’ve always been clear that I was at the event in Durham working in my capacity as Deputy Leader and that no rules were broken.

"Eating during a long day’s work was not against the rules. We have a Prime Minister who has been found to have broken the rules, lied about it and then been fined. If I were issued with a fine, I would do the decent thing and step down."

Sir Keir was pictured at the gathering.
Sir Keir was pictured at the gathering. Picture: Alamy

The Labour leader had been due to speak at an Institute for Government discussion, but pulled out on Sunday, with Labour not explaining why other than to say "plans change".

Sir Keir also did not attend a memorial service for former MP James Brokenshire at St Margaret's Church in Westminster, where he was expected join politicians from across the divide including the prime minister and Cabinet members.

It comes as Labour faced backlash after they confirmed they had began to organise a Christmas party for around 40 members of staff in December 2020, whilst London was under Tier 2 restrictions and the rule of six applied.

A spokesperson for Labour confirmed an email had been sent inviting staff to a festive bash, but stated it was cancelled when London entered Tier 3, which forced pubs and restaurants to close, according to Politico.

Labour has previously criticised the Government for holding similar functions.

Tory ministers have since lined up to accuse Sir Keir of "hypocrisy" after he called for Boris Johnson to quit when he faced a Scotland Yard probe into No10 parties.

Read more: What has Keir Starmer done? And what exactly is Beergate?

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."

Dominic Raab echoed the sentiment on Sunday, telling Sky: "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."

Meanwhile, shadow levelling up secretary Lisa Nandy refused seven times to say whether she thought the Labour leader should resign if he is fined for breaking lockdown rules.

She told Sky: "He is Mr Rules. He does not break the rules.

"He was the director of public prosecutions, not somebody who goes around tearing up rules when it suits him."

Read more: Minister refuses to say whether Keir Starmer should resign if he broke law over 'Beergate'

The leaked memo, published by the Mail on Sunday, indicated that the dinner in Durham had been planned on the schedule for Sir Keir's day of campaigning in April 2021.

The document stated that there would be a "dinner in Miners Hall" with City of Durham MP Mary Foy from 8.40pm to 10pm - and a note indicated 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 was for him to walk back to his hotel.

Sir Keir 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".

A spokesman for the Leader of the Opposition's office previously 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.

Sir Keir was facing pressure to set out his position on resigning
Sir Keir was facing pressure to set out his position on resigning. Picture: Alamy

On Saturday, Labour MP Diane Abbott told LBC that Mr Starmer should "consider his position" if he received a fixed penalty notice from Durham police.

She said: "If he actually gets a fixed penalty notice he really has to consider his position. I mean, I don't think he will, I think this is a lot of sort 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."

Ms Abbott denied that she was implying he should resign.

"He should think about his position and decide what is best. And that is only if he actually gets a fixed penalty notice!" she said.

"That's just logical."