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Hardly an astonishing scene, perhaps, after a hard day of election campaigning.
Except these were far from normal times, for when the meeting took place on the evening of April 30 last year, England was still in lockdown.
Indoor socialising was banned, and people who disobeyed the rules could be fined by police.
The Labour leader insists he is in the clear because the event was a work meeting, and that those there simply broke off to eat a takeaway before resuming their toil.
But that is exactly the same reason used by Boris Johnson to explain why he attended events in Downing Street during lockdown.
The 43-second video that shows Sir Keir and several others chatting over a beer while indoor socialising was banned by law. The Labour leader insists he is in the clear as the event was a work meeting
Police last night opened the door to a full probe into claims that Keir Starmer broke lockdown rules when he was filmed drinking with party officials.
Durham Constabulary said it would consider a request from Tory MP Richard Holden to review a controversial decision that cleared the Labour leader.
Senior Conservatives insisted the force should now launch a full investigation into Sir Keir’s conduct, saying there appeared to be no difference between the event that he attended and the ‘birthday party’ in No 10 for which Boris Johnson was fined £50.
Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries said that Sir Keir was a ‘hypocrite’ who should be ‘subjected to the same standard’ as the PM.
Critics say Sir Keir cannot have it both ways – insisting he is exempt because he was at a work meeting while simultaneously criticising the PM for using the same excuse.
The Prime Minister has been fined for one event – the first incumbent at No 10 to be guilty of a criminal offence – and is waiting to hear if he will face other penalties.
And they fined PM for birthday where no cake was eaten
Boris Johnson was eating salad at his desk and Rishi Sunak wandered into the room because he had been invited to a crucial meeting about Covid.
But because a handful of Downing Street staff also popped in to wish the Prime Minister a happy birthday, both he and the Chancellor ended up being fined for breaking lockdown laws that at the time banned gatherings indoors.
The event, in the unlikely surroundings of the No 10 Cabinet Room, took place on the afternoon of June 19, 2020, the day the Prime Minister turned 56.
It is believed to have lasted only nine minutes.
His then fiancee Carrie Symonds organised the impromptu celebration, which took place just two months after he left intensive care following his brush with death, and attended with their newborn son, Wilf, in her arms. She has also been fined.
Their interior designer Lulu Lytle is believed to have been present as she was carrying out renovations on the flat above No 11 at the time, as was top civil servant Simon Case.
It was initially believed that Mr Johnson had been presented with a Union Jack cake while aides sang Happy Birthday to him.
But it has since been claimed that the cake, bought by a special adviser, never even left its Tupperware box.
Some sausage rolls from Marks and Spencer were laid out on the Cabinet table along with a few cans of Estrella lager, but it is believed that these were left untouched.
Downing Street has said that staff ‘gathered briefly’ to ‘wish the Prime Minister a happy birthday’ and that Mr Johnson had been present ‘for less than ten minutes’.
So what, then, happened at the Durham Miners Hall on April 30, 2021?
The event took place late in the evening in the brightly lit office of City of Durham MP Mary Foy, where a vase of Labour roses had been placed by the window.
Footage shot through the ground-floor window shows Sir Keir holding a bottle of beer and drinking from it. Another bottle is sitting on the windowsill.
The Labour leader is seen listening to Mrs Foy, who is gesticulating energetically.
The video shows two men talking and eating food by the doorway, with a third brushing past.
Another woman appears to be sitting with the Leader of the Opposition with her back to the camera.
At the end of the 43-second video clip, a laughing Sir Keir takes a swig from his bottle.
The footage is controversial because at the time, people in England were banned from socialising inside with someone from another household under ‘step two’ of the roadmap out of lockdown.
The regulations stated: ‘You must not socialise indoors except with your household or support bubble. You can meet outdoors, including in gardens, in groups of six people or two households.’
Regarding work and business, the rules stated: ‘You should work from home if you can.’
Labour claims that no rules were broken because it was a work meeting, and that those attending had paused for dinner when a takeaway was delivered.
To add to the intrigue yesterday, the Daily Mail discovered that the Durham constituency Labour party was running an online quiz that night.
Labour is insistent that Sir Keir did not attend the Zoom event – and says it was hosted from another building completely.
Mrs Foy, who was elected in 2019, wished party members a good night – though she said she would not be attending herself, she told attendees to have a ‘greasy’ evening, suggesting that they enjoy a good drink.
When Sir Keir was asked about the video in January, he insisted he had not broken any rules, despite being pictured mixing indoors last April.
He told the BBC it was fine for him to drink with others because it was a work meeting in the run-up to elections last year.
Asked if he had broken Covid rules, Sir Keir said: ‘No, I haven’t. I was in a constituency office just days before the election. We were very busy, we were working in the office and we stopped for something to eat.
‘And then we carried on working. That is the long and the short of it. No party, no breach of the rules and absolutely no comparison with the Prime Minister.’
Asked by BBC presenter Sophie Raworth whether the drinking of beer was ‘reasonably necessary for work purposes’, the Labour leader said: ‘We’d stopped to eat a takeaway whilst we were working in the office and then we carried on.’
Asked why the photograph of Mr Johnson attending a work event with wine and cheese in the Downing Street garden in May 2020 was different, he said: ‘People will look at the photos and make their own minds up.’
Yesterday, a Labour Party source said Sir Keir had not broken the rules because the Durham gathering was a ‘work event’.
The Daily Mail discovered that the Durham constituency Labour party was running an online quiz that night. A Labour Party source said Sir Keir had not broken the rules because the Durham gathering was a ‘work event’
Asked what was the difference between Mr Johnson’s work events and Sir Keir’s, the source said: ‘The Prime Minister received a fixed-penalty notice and Keir Starmer hasn’t.
‘The difference in the situations is that Durham police investigated this matter and did not take it forward.’
Asked whether Sir Keir had breached any lockdown rules, the source said he had not, ‘as he has repeatedly said in television interviews since the photo first came out last May’.
‘What matters is that no rules were broken, as he said at the time and as the police found as they looked into this,’ the source insisted.
In February, Durham Constabulary announced that it would not be investigating Sir Keir over allegations he had broken lockdown rules.
The force said it had looked at the video and decided there had been no breach of the rules.
But it would appear that Durham officers did not speak to the Labour leader or anyone else who attended the event.
Neither the police force nor the Labour Party would say whether those at the gathering had been questioned.
Now, though, they have indicated to Richard Holden, Conservative MP for North West Durham, that they have opened the door to looking again at the events of that night.
Last night, in another letter to Durham Constabulary, Mr Holden asked the force to investigate the quiz, saying it was clearly a ‘social’ and ‘pre-arranged gathering’ which would be in breach of Covid rules.
Mr Holden also claimed that in one of the online invitations to the event, Miss Foy had encouraged people to have a ‘greasy night’ – which he said was a term for drinking too much.
Durham’s deputy chief constable yesterday promised to speak to the investigations team about Mr Holden’s concerns relating to Sir Keir’s case, raising the prospect that it could be reinvestigated.
A spokesman for the force repeatedly refused to rule out a fresh probe.
Miss Dorries said: ‘Keir Starmer has used every trick in the book to attack the PM over his handling of events in No 10, yet he doesn’t want to be held to the same standard the PM has subjected himself to.
‘He’s a hypocrite who should fess up to what really happened in Durham and explain why he thinks it’s any different to the hyperbole he levelled at the PM.’
And she put pressure on Durham Constabulary to launch a full investigation, tweeting: ‘A lack of consistency in interpretation of the regulations needs examining – urgently.’
A senior government source said last night: ‘By his own admission, Keir Starmer was not working while he was boozing inside with his friends. He says this was between meetings so assuming this is true, there is absolutely no difference between this and what happened in Downing Street on the PM’s birthday.
‘The rules applied to the whole country so Durham police must take the same approach as the Met and open a criminal investigation into this event.’
Mr Holden said: ‘No one, not even Starmer himself can explain the difference between what he was doing and what he’s been slamming the Prime Minister for.
‘It’s time Starmer came clean. The British people deserve to know the facts from someone who aspires to be our PM, not hear more weasel words from a man who spent his life as a high-end London lawyer.’
Earlier this month, Mr Johnson received a fine from the Metropolitan Police for attending an event in No 10 on his birthday in 2020.
But Durham police have so far refused to launch an investigation into claims that Sir Keir broke the rules on April 30 last year. In February the force decided not to launch a probe after reviewing a video of the event and deciding it did not believe an offence had been ‘established’.
Source: Daily Mail