'Keir beer' claims 'not comparable' to PM's birthday lockdown breach, Labour says

2804 Keir Starmer is accused of breaking lockdown rules in April 2021 after being pictured holding a bottle of beer in an MP's office. (This is not the photograph concerned). Credit: PA

Allegations Sir Keir Starmer broke Covid rules are "not comparable" to the lockdown breach committed by Boris Johnson when attending his birthday celebration, Labour has said.

The party was forced to respond to accusations against its leader after Durham Police said it would consider a letter from a Tory MP asking it to review a decision not to further investigate claims he broke Covid laws in April 2021.

The Labour leader was cleared of wrongdoing by the force after a photograph emerged - dubbed the 'Keir beer' picture - showing him with a bottle of alcohol in the office of City of Durham MP Mary Foy in the run-up to the Hartlepool by-election.

But Richard Holden, the Tory MP for North West Durham, said fines issued to members of the government - including Boris Johnson - over what appears to be a similar situation, mean there is a "a strong public interest" in the force "reviewing its decision not to investigate the Starmer incident further".

Durham Police told the MP it will "make enquiries" with the officers who first looked into claims against Sir Keir but appeared to reject suggestions that it had already agreed to reconsider its decision.

A spokesperson for Durham Constabulary said: "[We] were sent a letter by Richard Holden MP on April 22.

"As a courtesy, we have replied to Mr Holden to confirm we have received that letter and will consider its contents before responding in due course."

The move by Durham Police made the front page of the Daily Mail, however Labour said the paper had characterised the police response incorrectly.

Labour said it was wrong to say the letter suggested an investigation into whether Sir Keir Starmer broke coronavirus rules was being re-examined.

A spokesman for the party told journalists: "I think some of the characterisation of the letter has been inaccurate." He said the incident in question was a "work event".

Put to him that the police were "re-examining" the investigation, he said: "I wouldn't characterise the letter in that way."

Mr Holden believes Sir Keir should be investigated in the same way as Prime Minister Johnson, his wife Carrie and Chancellor Rishi Sunak who all paid £50 fines after the Metropolitan Police decided Covid rules were broken in June 2020 when they celebrated the PM's 56th birthday.

Shadow work and pensions secretary Jon Ashworth told ITV News the two situations are "totally different".

"I don't think they are remotely comparable, frankly. First of all, the police are not investigating Keir Starmer, they've said he hasn't broke the rules.

He said the difference is that police have issued 50 fines in relation to Downing Street parties and there the rules were broken by the same people who decided them.

"There's a pattern of behaviour across Downing Street with rules broken on umpteen occasions in the end Boris Johnson is responsible for Downing Street.

"It's his office, it's his home, and he enforced the rules so I frankly don't think the two are comparable."

'Keir beer and PM's birthday are not comparable,' says Jon Ashworth:

According to a tweet by Mr Holden, the force's deputy chief constable Ciaron Irvine responded, saying: "I will make enquiries with the investigation team and will update you at the point at which I have been able to conclude those inquiries".

Mr Holden's letter to the force said: “I do not believe the photographed activity meets the ‘functional but not social’ test in the guidance on political campaigning in campaign rooms.”

Alongside his letter, Mr Holden said in a tweet: “The rules and the way they are interpreted should apply equally to the Prime Minister Boris Johnson, & to those who seek office like Keir Starmer.

“And they should be applied equally by the police, whether Met Police or Durham Police.”

Sir Keir responded to allegations of rule-breaking when the photograph emerged in January, saying: "No party, no breach of the rules and absolutely no comparison with the prime minister."