ITV News North of England Reporter Hannah Miller reports on Friday night on the political significance of Durham police probing the allegations the Labour leader broke Covid rules
Sir Keir Starmer has been accused of "hypocrisy" by Tories as he faces a police investigation into claims he breached lockdown rules in April last year by drinking beer with colleagues.
The Labour leader has said he is confident no Covid rules were broken after Durham Police said it would investigate claims that an evening event he attended with other senior party figures and activists while campaigning might have broken pandemic social distancing regulations.
Mr Starmer denied on Friday that any rules were broken because he was with colleagues "working in the office" - in line with Covid guidelines in place at the time.
"I was working, I stopped for something to eat - no party, no breach of the rules," he said.
"I understand the police need to do their job, but I'm confident there was no breach of the rules."
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His comments came after Durham Police confirmed that they are opening a formal investigation into claims the Labour leader broke lockdown rules.
Durham Constabulary had previously decided it would not launch a criminal probe after initially looking into claims against Sir Keir, but says it reversed that decision after "significant new information" came to light.
Reports have also now indicated the dinner in Durham had been planned on the schedule for Sir Keir’s day of campaigning.
A leaked memo published by the Mail on Sunday states that there would be a “dinner in Miners Hall” with City of Durham MP Mary Foy from 8.40pm to 10pm – and a note indicates 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 is for Sir Keir to walk back to his hotel – he has 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”.
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Commenting on the report, a spokesman for the Leader of the Opposition’s office said: “Keir was working, a takeaway was made available in the kitchen, and he ate between work demands. No rules were broken.”
Conservatives, however, have questioned why he was not resigning after the Labour leader called for Boris Johnson to quit while under investigation over the No 10 partygate row.
Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting said he would not “entertain” the prospect of Sir Keir resigning over alleged lockdown rule-breaking last April.
He said police previously looked into the alleged breach and no action was taken, insisting to the BBC on Saturday: “We expect that to be the outcome now.”
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“I have absolute faith and confidence that Keir Starmer did the right thing all the way along,” he said.
“He’s maintained that all the way along. He’s someone who practices what he preaches, and as I say the police have looked at this before and found no case to answer.
“We’re confident that’ll be the case this time. I think the contrast between Keir Starmer and Boris Johnson will be even sharper because I do think it’s ridiculous, actually, after everything that we’ve seen Boris Johnson is still there and Conservative MPs haven’t removed Boris Johnson.”
Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said it's "only right and responsible" to allow the police to carry out their investigation - but called out Sir Keir for "hypocrisy".
Footage of the incident shows the Labour leader holding a beer
“I do think, though, that the public will be uncomfortable with the hypocrisy. I think he’s used one in three of his PMQs to talk about parties instead of focusing on the cost of living," he told Times Radio.
“He has tweeted himself saying that if you’re under investigation, a criminal investigation, then you should resign.”
Labour opponents have been urging the force to further investigate allegations against Sir Keir over the now-infamous 'Keir beer' photograph which showed him drinking with colleagues in April, 2021, at a time when most indoor socialising was banned.
A spokesman for Durham Constabulary said its officers had looked into claims against Sir Keir at the time and "concluded that no offence had been established and therefore no further action would be taken".
But, it added: “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.”
Tories such as MP Richard Holden have been urging the force to launch a probe, saying the circumstances in which Sir Keir was drinking a beer a similar to the 'birthday party' scenario in Number 10 which led to Boris Johnson being fined.
Sir Keir was filmed drinking a beer inside the Durham office of Labour MP Mary Foy but it has since emerged a large take-away curry order had been delivered and a group of up to 30 may have been present.
Sir Keir this week said he wanted to focus on the cost-of-living crisis and labelled Conservative allegations as "mudslinging" designed to distract from bigger issues.
At the time of the alleged gathering, non-essential retail and outdoor venues including pub gardens were open but social distancing rules, which included a ban on indoor mixing between households, remained in place.
Explaining the incident to Good Morning Britain on Wednesday, the Labour leader said: “We’re on the road at the end of the day, we’re in the office preparing.
“Now, that evening, from memory, we were doing an online event for members because we had this get out the vote thing.”
Sir Keir added: “At some point, this was in the evening, everybody’s hungry and then that takeaway was ordered. It was then delivered into the kitchen of the offices…
“Restaurants and pubs were closed, so takeaways were really the only way you could eat.
“So, this was brought in and at various points people went through the kitchen, got a plate, had some food to eat and got on with their work.”
Mr Holden, after Durham Police announced the investigation, said the force was doing "exactly the right thing".
"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," he said.