Labor are confident they can prove Sir Keir Starmer did not break lockdown rules after he pledged to offer his resignation if given a fixed penalty notice by the police.
Mr Keir came under pressure at an event in Durham in April 2021 with party colleagues when he was filmed having a drink and a takeaway curry was ordered.
In a dramatic statement on Monday, the Labor leader said he would do the “right thing” if he is fined for an offense covid rules.
The move puts his future in the hands of Durham Police after it was announced last week that officers would reopen an investigation into the incident.
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However, Labor sources believe they have evidence it was a business event and those in attendance were taking a break to eat while working late on preparations for the Hartlepool by-election.
A Guardian newspaper report said the party had compiled time-stamped logs from messenger chats, documents and video footage showing they continued to work until 1am – well after the food was delivered to carry.
He added that detectives investigating the alleged breach of lockdown rules are considering interviewing the Labor leader face to face.
“We have been completely clear that no rules were broken. We will provide documentary evidence that people were working before and after stopping to eat,” a Labor source told the Guardian.
“No law was broken”
Speaking on Monday, Sir Keir, who has been a fierce critic of by Boris Johnson breaking the rules in Downing Street, said it was ‘absolutely clear that no law was broken’ in his case.
But he added: ‘If the police decide to issue me a fixed penalty notice, of course I would do the right thing and resign.’
Pressed on whether he would resign if it was determined there had been a breach of the rules but he was not fined, Sir Keir said he had not broken the rules and added: “The penalty for a COVID breach is a fixed-notice penalty, it’s a matter of law, and I’ve explained what the position is in relation to that.”
Deputy Labor leader Angela Rayner, who was also present at the event, also said no rules were broken and similarly promised she would resign if fined.
At the time, COVID rules prohibited the mixing of households indoors, outside of work.
Over the weekend, a leaked memo obtained by the Mail on Sunday revealed the meal was pre-plannedcontrary to Labour’s earlier claim that it was a decision taken at night because “food served nowhere”.
Sir Keir pulled out of a planned think tank event on Monday amid mounting pressure.
But at a hastily arranged press conference later in the day, the Labor leader agreed to face TV reporters to answer growing questions about how he might react if he were recognized guilty of breaking the law.
“I believe in honor,” says Starmer
In a statement, he sought to distinguish his position from that of Mr Johnson, who has already received a fixed penalty notice after a Met Police investigation into alleged lockdown breaches in Downing Street and Whitehall in 2020 and 2021.
This investigation, in which more than 50 fines have already been imposed, is continuing.
Sir Keir said: “I believe in honour, integrity and the principle that those who make the laws must follow them.
“I believe politicians who undermine this principle undermine trust in politics, undermine democracy, undermine Britain.
“I am absolutely clear that no laws were broken – they were obeyed at all times.
“I just ate something while working late into the evening, like any politician would a few days before an election.
“The Prime Minister has chosen not to resign, despite this not only has he broken the law he made, but 50 fines have been imposed in relation to the workplace for which he is responsible.
“It is his choice. But it is very important that the public does not think that all politicians are the same and that is why I have defined my position in terms of honor and integrity.”
Analysis by Jon Craig, Chief Political Correspondent
It was already called “Balti-matum shrimp”. But Sir Keir Starmer’s promise to quit if fined for ‘beer-carrying’ looks like a desperate gamble.
After being backed into a korma for days, the Labor leader is certainly out to fight. But he looked tense and his nine-minute statement was clearly repeated.
We now know why he pulled out of a speech to policy buffs at the Institute for Government and – grossly, his critics would say – missed the memorial service for former Tory cabinet minister James Brokenshire.
His statement was obviously an attempt to set the record straight. But even his staunchest supporters would say that was a statement he should have made weeks ago.
Angela Rayner – who initially denied being present at the ‘beergate’ curry, later said he would also resign if fined. I bet she’s thrilled to be brought back in the Starmer drama.
As he gripped the lectern during his monologue at Labor headquarters, there was a change in tone from Sir Keir’s previous complacent and misleading statements about the ‘beergate’ allegations.
The accusation leveled against the Labor leader by his political opponents is self-righteous hypocrisy. And he may be an experienced lawyer, but he’s forgotten the iron rule of politics: it’s not the offense, it’s the cover-up.
After his protestations of innocence and pleas about ‘honesty’ and ‘integrity’, the key question was asked as he tried to escape by Sky’s tenacious political editor Beth Rigby.
What would Sir Keir do if Durham Police decided he had broken the rules but was not fined, Beth asked. Remember, the force said they wouldn’t fine Dominic Cummings for his ‘for the view’ ride to Barnard Castle because it wouldn’t fine people in retrospect.
Sir Keir’s response: He will only resign if he is fined, an answer that will not satisfy his critics and could bring his pilau to tears in the weeks and months to come.
Speaking on Sky News on Tuesday, Police Minister Kit Malthouse said Durham Constabulary will hold to “high standards” regardless of the alleged pressure put on them as they investigate the Labor leader.
“Durham Police will act professionally to the high standards we expect of them, regardless of outside events surrounding this case,” he said.
“We have to give them the space and the time to do their job.”
The COVID-19 campaign group Bereaved Families for Justice UK, which has criticized the government’s pandemic policies, tweeted: ‘This is the right decision by Keir Starmer and unlike Boris Johnson it shows integrity, decency and respect for the bereaved.”
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