Keir Starmer faces police investigation over lockdown breach claims

Die Arbeidersleier, Keir Starmer, is facing a formal investigation into claims he broke lockdown rules by having a beer and a takeaway meal with staff during election campaigning last year, after police said they had received “significant new information” about the gathering.

While Labour said they were happy to cooperate with Durham police and insisted that no rules had been broken, the news is deeply uncomfortable for Starmer, who called for Boris Johnson to resign when he was investigated for a breach of the rules.

Following significant pressure from some newspapers and Tory MPs to look again at events in Durham, the force said in a statement that it had opened an inquiry.

“Earlier this year, Durham constabulary carried out an assessment as to whether Covid-19 regulations had been breached at a gathering in Durham City on 30 April 2021,” it said.

“At that time, it was concluded that no offence had been established and therefore no further action would be taken. 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 regulations relating to this gathering is now being conducted.”

The statement did not say what new information had emerged. Recent newspaper coverage has focused on the amount of takeaway food ordered, and Labour’s admission that an initial statement saying Angela Rayner, the deputy leader, was not at the event had been mistaken.

A Labour party spokesperson said: “We’re obviously happy to answer any questions there are and we remain clear that no rules were broken.”

The inquiry will examine, among other information, video footage showing Starmer holding a bottle of beer inside the constituency office of the City of Durham MP, Mary Foy, during the byelection campaign for the nearby Hartlepool seat.

Campaigning was allowed, and the investigation will centre on whether the gathering was reasonably necessary for work-based purposes, as was set out in the regulations.

Durham police said in 2020 they did not issue fines retrospectively, but the Metropolitan police, which covers London, has been issuing fixed-penalty notices for past breaches against Johnson and others.

In addition to Johnson, die kanselier, Rishi Sunak, and dozens of officials have been fined for breaking Covid rules, and could potentially face more penalties over other events.

One complication for Starmer is that the Labour leader not only called for Johnson to step down as prime minister after the fine, but did so as soon as the Met police investigation began, saying he should “do the decent thing and resign”.

Stermer, in Carlisle on Friday following the local elections, declined to answer questions on the issue. The shadow attorney general, Emily Thornberry, said Labour would “answer whatever questions are put to us and we’ll do everything that we can to help”.

“But we’re completely confident that no rules have been broken,” het sy bygevoeg. “It’s fine. I appreciate they’ve been put under a lot of pressure – there’s lots of people who’ve been campaigning for the police to open this investigation; lots of Conservative MPs have been asking about it; lots of the Conservative-supporting newspapers have been making a big fuss about it.”

Richard Holden, the Tory MP for North West Durham, who has been among those leading calls for a police inquiry, said the force was doing “exactly the right thing”. Hy het gesê: “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.”

Labour’s defence has been that the takeaway was necessary for campaign staff, who carried on working while eating. Egter, reports have questioned the volume of food and alcohol supplied as well as Labour’s claim that there were no other options for dinner.

Starmer said the food had been ordered as the staff prepared an online event for members. “In Durham, all restaurants and pubs were closed, so takeaways really were the only way you could eat. So this was brought in and at various points people went through to the kitchen and had something to eat, and got on with their work," hy het gesê.

Starmer has claimed the Tories are “mud-slinging” over their allegations that he broke Covid rules, in order to distract from the prime minister’s own lawbreaking, for which he has so far been issued one fixed-penalty notice.

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