Keir Starmer gets grilled over 'Beergate'
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Durham Constabulary reversed a previous decision to take no action, saying the information had been received in “recent days”. Police have been under mounting pressure to probe claims Sir Keir broke lockdown rules after footage emerged of him drinking beer with colleagues in an MP’s constituency office in April last year.
The images were taken at a Labour office in Durham during the campaign for the Hartlepool by-election, when a ban on indoor mixing between households was still in place.
The group dined on take-away curry and the size of the order suggested there were about 30 people present.
Sir Keir said he was confident he hadn’t broken any Covid rules and Labour insists the gathering was a meal break during a work event.
However, the Labour leader has reportedly struggled to prove what work he did after the beer and curry.
On Friday, Sir Keir told reporters: “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.”
Earlier this week, he said he wanted to focus on the cost-of-living crisis and not Conservative mud-slinging.
Emily Thornberry, Shadow Attorney General, said she is confident the police investigation will result in no action being taken against anyone present.
Asked if Sir Keir would resign if he is found to have breached lockdown regulations, she told Sky News: “I’m approaching this being completely confident that he hasn’t broken the rules. There’s no point in commenting on hypotheticals, what the police may or may not conclude.
“I’m confident that the rules haven’t been broken, the police will come to that conclusion, that’s the end of it.”
Calls for Sir Keir to be investigated were stepped up after Prime Minister Boris Johnson, his wife Carrie and Chancellor Rishi Sunak were fined for attending a lockdown-busting event at Downing Street in June 2020.
Police said on Friday that after initial inquiries, Durham Constabulary “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.”
A Labour Party spokesperson said: “We’re obviously happy to answer any questions there are and we remain clear that no rules were broken.”
The force said its “general approach” was not to take “retrospective action”, including against former Downing Street chief adviser Dominic Cummings over his notorious trip to Barnard Castle to “test his eyesight” while the country was in lockdown.
The force has been asked to confirm whether this general approach remains in place.
Sir Keir was filmed drinking a bottle of beer with colleagues in the Durham office of Mary Foy, the local Labour MP, on the night of April 30 last year in the run up to the Hartlepool by-election.
He previously said no restaurants or pubs were open and the hotel he and colleagues were staying in at the time of the alleged offence did not serve food, so “if you didn’t get a takeaway then our team wasn’t eating that evening”.
Labour originally denied deputy leader Angela Rayner was at the event but later confirmed she was there.
Richard Holden, the Conservative MP for North West Durham, said police were doing “exactly the right thing”.
He added: “It’s vital that the man who wants to be prime minister is held to the same standard as the Prime Minister and everybody else.”
Mr Holden said the “incontrovertible” evidence of Mrs Rayner’s presence showed Labour had lied about the event.
“This was clearly a social event at the end of the working day, in clear breach of the restrictions,” he claimed.
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