Labour leader Keir Starmer is currently under a police investigation for breaching Covid-19 lockdown rules. If fined, he says he’ll resign. How did we get here and what does this mean for prime minister Boris Johnson?
“I’m absolutely clear that no laws were broken, they were followed at all times. I simply had something to eat while working late in the evening.”Keir Starmer
It’s a line the Labour leader Keir Starmer has repeatedly made over the past few days.
“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… I’m confident no rules were broken.”Keir Starmer
On 30th April last year, Keir Starmer visited Durham. He was there to campaign the week before an important by-election in Hartlepool, a seat held by Labour that the Conservatives would go on to win.
And at around 10pm, a takeaway was delivered from the Spice Lounge curry house to the Durham Miners Hall where Keir Starmer had been working all day. The next day, a video was posted on social media showing Keir Starmer sipping a bottle of beer.
At the time, the country was still under partial lockdown and indoor social gatherings outside of your household or bubble.
The Sun newspaper ran the story the following day but other mainstream media outlets largely ignored the footage, Labour didn’t accept it was a social gathering, and the story went quiet.
“Lots of people are interested in the exact legal justification from the learned leader of the opposition for the picture of him drinking a pint of beer or a bottle of beer.”Boris Johnson
When BJ said this in January it felt like this was an effort to distract people from his own misdeeds when it came to parties in lockdown.
In February, Durham police said…
“We do not believe an offence has been established.”Statement from Durham police
And so the story went quiet again until April when, 10 days after Boris Johnson confirmed he’d been fined, Conservative MP Richard Holden wrote to Durham police stressing the “strong public interest” for them to review their decision not to investigate.
Six days later, Durham police confirmed they’d received a “number of communications” relating to the matter but, again, stated…
“For clarity, Durham Constabulary is not currently investigating this incident.”Statement from Durham police
But pressure from the likes of Conservative MPs and some newspapers only grew. On 6th of May Durham police released a new statement. Things had changed following receipt of what they described as new information:
“We can confirm that an investigation into potential breaches of Covid-19 regulations relating to this gathering is now being conducted.”Statement from Durham police
Cue: Keir Starmer’s big political gamble.
72 hours after the police announced their intervention, the Labour party leader said he would resign if he is fined by Durham police.
“I’ve always followed the rules. But if the police decide to issue me with a fixed penalty notice I would, of course, do the right thing and step down.”Keir Starmer
So, where does this leave both Boris Johnson and the Conservative party?
Last week, Keir Starmer suggested the curry had been a spontaneous event. But in a memo leaked to the Mail on Sunday which was drawn up days before the visit, the timetable includes “dinner” from 8.40pm to 10pm at the Miners Hall with Labour MP Mary Foy.
It states a takeaway curry will be ordered from Spice Lounge.
“The devil’s in the detail claim the Labour leader’s critics. This leaked document marked confidential and seen by the Mail on Sunday suggests the gathering was pre-planned with a note to arrange a takeaway from a local curry house Spice Lounge with local MP Mary Foy.”Channel 4 News
Keir Starmer’s critics claim this memo shows the curry was pre-arranged and therefore no different from the No 10 partygate events.
But the Labour party claims it can prove that Keir Starmer didn’t break the rules.
Because although the guidelines at the time banned socialising indoors except in your household or with your support bubble, there were a number of exemptions, two of which the Labour leader could use in his defence.
Firstly, if the gathering was “reasonably necessary for work purposes” and secondly, if the gathering was “reasonably necessary for the purposes of campaigning in an election or a referendum.”
Here’s the Shadow Levelling Up Secretary Lisa Nandy speaking to Sky News…
“It is absolutely absurd of the Tories to claim that this is in any way equates to a prime minister who was under investigation by the police for 12 separate gatherings which included karaoke parties, bringing your own bottle parties, pub quizzes, suitcases full of wine being smuggled through the back door…”Lisa Nandy speaking on Sky News
And, according to the Guardian, the Labour party has compiled time-stamped logs from Whatsapp chats, documents and video edits to show Keir Starmer continued to work after he’d had his curry.
As the former head of the crown prosecution service, Keir Starmer says he’s a stickler for following the rules. After all, he did self-isolate six times during the pandemic.
All of this now puts Durham police in a tricky position.
“Durham police are now under enormous pressure. They know that the future of one political leader hangs in the balance.”Channel 4 News
Keir Starmer has gambled his entire political career on what the police decide to do next. A process which has very little transparency.
It is a huge call.
But, what is clear is that if they do fine him, and he does resign, the pressure to do the same will only intensify for prime minister Boris Johnson.
Today’s story was written by Phoebe Davis and mixed by Imy Harper.
How Starmer can lose – and win
As the “Mr Rules” of Westminster, the Labour leader will be in an impossible position if fined over “beergate”. He should say in advance that he will go