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Keir Starmer faces another barrage of Beergate revelations today with claims aides were drunk and no work was being done.
The Labour leader’s efforts to keep a lid on the row – now being investigated by police – were dealt a further blow with allegations that people were ‘p*****’ at the gathering in Durham last year.
Meanwhile, the furore is threatening to spread further with Sir Keir’s office accused of sending out invites for a Christmas party in December 2020, when London was under Tier 2 restrictions. The bash was only cancelled when the capital was upgraded to Tier 3.
Labour insisted the gathering would have been allowed under the rules, although it has criticised the government for holding similar functions.
The latest claims – reported by Politico – emerged as Sir Keir cancelled a think-tank event where he was due to face questions from journalists today.
Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting dismissed the criticism this morning, and London Mayor Sadiq Khan suggested that Sir Keir would not have to quit even if fined because he did not write the rules.
Asked on a trip to the US whether a penalty would be a resigning matter for the Labour leader, Mr Khan said: ‘No. Unfortunately, the last time I checked Keir Starmer isn’t the prime minister or the chancellor.
‘Why is the British public angry? … The anger is because those who made those rules were breaking them.’
Keir Starmer leaving his London home today – but he has cancelled a think-tank event amid the raging Beergate row
With police now investigating Sir Keir’s drinks in Durham on April 30 (pictured), he is under intense pressure to say whether he would resign if he was fined for breaking Covid rules
On April 29, Sir Keir Starmer was welcomed to Hull. The Labour leader was pictured socially distancing from two Labour colleagues after an al fresco dinner
It has emerged Sir Keir – who faces a full-blown investigation by Durham Police – has pulled out of an Institute for Government event today, where he was expected to take questions. Labour declined to say why he has withdrawn
Over the weekend a bombshell memo surfaced that appeared to contradict Sir Keir’s account of the night he was filmed drinking a lockdown beer with staff.
In a sign of growing panic, his aides cancelled a major speech he was due to give this afternoon at an Institute for Government event where he was also expected to take questions from journalists.
The organisers were not told why he had suddenly pulled out.
With police now investigating Sir Keir’s drinks in Durham, he is under intense pressure to say whether he would resign if he was fined for breaking Covid rules – as he has insisted Mr Johnson should.
Labour confirmed that invites were sent out from the leader’s office for a Christmas gathering in December 2020, when London was in Tier 2.
They insisted the plan was always compliant with the rules and was cancelled when London was escalated to Tier 3.
However, the party was heavily critical of the Department for Education for holding a similar drinks event that Christmas under Tier 2.
One source told Politico some junior staffers present in Durham last year ‘were p*ssed and obviously weren’t working so I remember thinking: why are they here?’
But Labour maintains that no rules were breached, and Mr Streeting said in a round of interviews this morning that the Tories were ‘slinging mud’.
Pressed on why Sir Keir was not answering questions today, Mr Streeting told Sky News: ‘Well, he’s been doing that all weekend. He’s been doing it consistently since he was first asked questions about Durham.
‘Let’s just remember this central fact, which is the police have looked at this before, they found no case to answer. No action was taken. There’s no reason to think this time round will be any different.
‘What it will show is the stark contrast between Boris Johnson, who was fined, Boris Johnson who lied about there being any events whatsoever under his own roof, Boris Johnson who said all of that despite the fact we now know that officials were wheeling in suitcases full of booze into Number 10.
‘There is no comparison whatsoever between perfectly legitimate campaigning activity which Keir has never denied, and the actions of Boris Johnson and the people who work for him, which was rule-breaking, lying, completely unacceptable, and the fact that Boris Johnson is still there, I think, is remarkable and depressing.’
Labour’s Left was circling yesterday and sources suggested it was ‘almost inevitable’ that Sir Keir would face the axe if he was fined by Durham Constabulary.
‘In the shadow cabinet there are certainly some who think instead of cowering, he should tackle this head on by saying he will resign if he is fined,’ a party source said.
‘He has nothing to lose. He will have to go anyway if he gets a fine, this would put him in a much stronger position if he is cleared.’
Lisa Nandy, the housing spokesman who ran against Sir Keir for the leadership, yesterday refused to say whether she would put her hat in the ring again if he stood down.
Jolyon Maugham, a barrister who has repeatedly taken the Government to court over Brexit, warned that Beergate was a ‘serious matter’.
‘I do think there are proper questions which arise for Starmer and his team to answer. As I understand matters, I don’t think this can be ignored,’ the former adviser to Ed Miliband said.
‘I really wouldn’t want to be placing a bet that Starmer hasn’t broken the law. This is a serious matter for him and for Labour.’
Owen Jones, a Left-wing activist, said that ‘people like me were wrong to dismiss’ the Beergate row ‘out of hand’.
He said if Sir Keir was found to have lied his position ‘isn’t tenable regardless of whether restrictions were broken’.
Keir Starmer faces another barrage of Beergate revelations today with claims aides were drunk and no work was being done
Diane Abbott, the former shadow home secretary, said: ‘If he actually gets a fixed penalty notice he really has to consider his position. I don’t think he will. But if he were to get a fixed penalty notice he would have to consider his position.’
Mark Jenkinson, Tory MP for Workington, last night accused Sir Keir of ‘running scared’.
He said: ‘It’s time he came out and told the truth, apologised and put this whole sorry saga behind him.’
Today the Daily Mail revealed that Labour MPs made a virtue of an outdoor meal with Sir Keir complying with Covid rules just 24 hours before he was filmed drinking indoors with party delegates.
The newly-uncovered photograph showed him socially distancing from two Labour colleagues after an al fresco dinner.
At the time, restaurants were serving food outside with indoor socialising banned.
However the following day Sir Keir, his deputy Angela Rayner, local MP Mary Foy and a number of other Labour activists ordered a curry to Durham Miners Hall and were filmed chatting in a small kitchen that made social distancing impossible.
Tory MPs accused Sir Keir of ‘acting one way when the camera is on him and another when he thinks it is not’.
The new evidence follows a bruising week in which police announced they would reinvestigate the Beergate event on April 30 last year.
A memo from the event, leaked to the Mail on Sunday, revealed the curry dinner was pre-arranged with no work planned for afterward, contradicting Sir Keir’s claim that it was a spontaneous meal while conducting Labour business.
On April 29 last year, while on the campaign trail for the Hartlepool by-election, Sir Keir met with Labour MPs Diana Johnson and Emma Hardy in Hull.
In a photograph posted on social media by Mrs Johnson, chairman of the Commons home affairs committee, the two MPs and Sir Keir are seen standing outside a restaurant while maintaining social distancing.
In a caption, Mrs Johnson said: ‘Delighted to welcome Labour leader Keir Starmer to Hull this evening with Emma Hardy MP at Humber Street for a tasty dinner, although a bit chilly sitting out!’
But the following evening Sir Keir and party delegates ordered a curry – which could allegedly have fed 30 people – and were filmed chatting indoors.
The Labour leader has consistently claimed it was a work event and neither he nor colleagues broke any rules.
Commenting on the new picture, Conservative MP Richard Holden, whose letter to Durham Constabulary’s chief constable sparked a review of the Beergate event, said: ‘Sir Keir Starmer has been caught acting one way when the camera is on him and another when he thinks it’s not.
‘This latest revelation makes clear that Starmer picks and chooses when he thinks he needs to obey the rules and brings up even more questions for his late night drinks and curry party in Durham.’
Paul Howell, Conservative MP for Sedgefield in County Durham, said: ‘Sir Keir and his Labour colleagues have been shouting from the rooftops about other people but then appear to have done the same things themselves. You have to be careful what you shout for.’
Yesterday the Sunday Times quoted a source who said Sir Keir did not return to work after his meal as he has claimed.
Asked about new claims yesterday, a Labour spokesman said: ‘Keir was working, a takeaway was made available in the kitchen and he ate between work demands. No rules were broken.’
Mrs Johnson and Mrs Hardy were contacted for comment.
Posturing Sir Beer’s mess is entirely of his own making: Like all politicians who try to strike poses on the moral high ground, Keir Starmer’s ethical posturing has come back to bite him, writes MICK HUME
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, the former director of public prosecutions, is supposedly a law-abiding and morally upright figure.
‘He’s Mr Rules. He doesn’t break the rules,’ Shadow Cabinet member Lisa Nandy piously insisted to Sky News at the weekend.
Yet, as his tortuously woven web of dissembling, double standards and alleged dishonesty over ‘Beergate’ unravels, Starmer now faces being known instead as ‘Mr Rules Are Only For The Rest Of You’.
An official Labour document obtained by the Mail has confirmed that, despite the repeated denials from Starmer and his team, their curry-and-beer event with local activists in Durham in April last year – when restrictions on social gatherings indoors were still in place – was at least as rule-breaking as Boris’s ten-minute birthday party in Downing Street.
We now know that the Labour leader’s get-together included a pre-planned 80-minute dinner rather than a spontaneous meal break taken during a busy day of campaigning.
And, contrary to Starmer’s insistence that the group merely grabbed a quick bite before getting back to the grindstone, we know that no further work was planned after the curry and beer had been consumed late on that Friday night.
Labour leader Keir Starmer pictured as he leaves his home in London amid beergate accusations on Saturday
The ‘visit programme’ also confirms that everybody knew deputy leader Angela Rayner would be there all along.
The repeated claim that Labour officials simply ‘forgot’ about her flame-haired presence always seemed about as unconvincing as Starmer the metropolitan London lawyer posing as a friend of the North East working classes while sipping a bottle of Spanish lager.
Mrs Rayner is not generally thought of, after all, as a forgettable wallflower or shrinking violet.
Then again, if some of them do have foggy memories of that night it could be because, as one Labour informant has claimed, local MP Mary Foy and her team were there ‘just getting p*****’.
Like all politicians who try to strike poses on the moral high ground, from John ‘Back To Basics’ Major to Tony ‘I’m A Pretty Straight Sorta Guy’ Blair, Starmer’s ethical posturing has come back to bite him.
Having loudly insisted that Boris Johnson must resign or be sacked over Partygate in Downing Street, he now faces calls to step down over Beergate at the Durham Miners Hall.
If Starmer had exhibited a more rational response to Partygate, and not called for the Prime Minister’s resignation over the crime of having a birthday cake in a tupperware box, he would be in less trouble now.
But, by being so harrumphingly hawkish about Boris, Sir Keir has got himself into a complete mess – one entirely of his own making.
As Labour Party leader, Sir Keir might have had limited success to date. But he can now point to at least one remarkable achievement – he has made many people suspect that he is at least as untrustworthy as the notoriously shifty Boris.
Labour officials initially denied Angela Rayner (right) had been in attendance, before claiming they ‘forgot’ about her presence
Indeed for some, Starmer’s hyprocrisy over breaking lockdown rules is, if anything, even worse than Mr Johnson’s.
Boris always looked like a reluctant lockdown PM, giving in too easily to the safety-first-and-last experts of Sage before looking for an early-ish way out.
By contrast, Sir Keir was the high priest of lockdown zealotry. Labour’s only attempted criticism of the Government’s authoritarian Covid laws was to insist that the Conservatives should have locked us all down earlier, harder and for even longer.
F or those of us who believe the bigger lockdown scandal was the imposition of such irrational and fear-driven rules in the first place, Labour’s fanatical authoritarians were always a large part of the problem.
To find that Starmer and Rayner were partying in defiance of the lockdown laws they championed reveals a level of hyprocrisy which we might have suspected but had not previously seen.
Should Starmer have to resign over an illicit beer and curry – even if Durham Constabulary dig up enough evidence to fine him?
Of course, he should not – any more than Boris should be forced out of office over a ten-minute party and a £50 fixed penalty notice.
Police should surely have more important crimes to investigate and our political leaders should certainly have bigger issues to debate.
We are living, lest anybody forget, through a cost of living crisis, with many worried about whether they can afford the price of a pint or a cake.
Inflation is spiralling out of control and economists are beginning to mention the ‘R’ word as many predict a recession further down the road.
And then, of course, there is the bloody war in eastern Europe that has many Ukrainians worrying about whether they will reach their next birthday – never mind how they might keep the lights on for any future late-night ‘work gatherings’.
So obviously there are many more serious issues for our leaders to focus on than the essentially petty bunfights over Beergate or Partygate.
But that does not mean Sir Keir, or indeed Mr Johnson, can simply brush these things off like leftover crumbs.
Because the Labour leader’s troubles now transcend curry-eating and beer-drinking. They concern the central political tests of trust and honesty.
Just how low public trust in our political leaders has sunk was demonstrated by last week’s local elections. The results reflected a widespread ‘none of the above’ attitude – a distinct lack of enthusiasm for any of the major parties.
Even by the poor standards of local elections, voter turnout was damagingly low – an estimated 34 per cent compared with 67 per cent at the 2019 general election.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson pictured as he leaves a polling station after casting his vote for the local elections on Thursday
The ‘Gate’ scandals can only make things worse. The results also show that Starmer and Labour are still not benefiting from the Tories’ troubles as much as might have been expected.
Labour certainly consolidated its dominance in London, but there is little sign yet of a serious revival in the key Red Wall seats of the North and Midlands which it lost to the Conservatives in 2019.
Given that Durham Constabulary did not announce their decision to open an investigation into Beergate until a day after Britain went to the polls, Labour’s performance is more disturbing still.
It’s also worth recalling that the infamous Beergate gathering took place during campaigning for the 2021 Hartlepool by-election.
Labour lost, with Hartlepool electing a Tory MP for the first time since the seat was created in 1974. It is tempting to think that, if Starmer and Rayner had spent more time campaigning than currying, Labour could have done better. But maybe not.
The signs are that working class voters in the former Labour heartlands find Starmer a pallid, uninspiring figure. Many of them voted for Brexit and are also not daft enough to forget his role as Labour’s leading Remainer.
Starmer’s main appeal for support so far has simply been ‘I’m not Boris Johnson’. But the more he becomes mired in allegations of hypocrisy and dishonesty, the less convincing even that line becomes. I suspect many people would still rather share a curry with Boris.
We need feel little sympathy for the stiff Starmer, undone largely by his own self-righteous posturing. Or, as Shakespeare might have it, hoist with his own petard.