Labour has rejected claims that a leaked planning memo about Keir Starmer’s visit to Durham last year undermined his assertion he did not break lockdown rules.
The Labour document, published by the Mail on Sunday, shows that an 80-minute dinner with the Labour MP Mary Foy, featuring a takeaway curry, was planned as part of his schedule.
Starmer has repeatedly claimed that the meal, at which he was pictured drinking beer, did not break lockdown rules because he was eating in the course of work, and not attending a social event.
The announcement by Durham police on Friday that they were reopening their investigation into the event has led Tories to accuse the Labour leader of hypocrisy as he called for Boris Johnson’s resignation when police opened an investigation into lockdown breaches at No 10.
Tories argued the memo was evidence the meal was in breach of lockdown rules because it showed that it was pre-arranged (to take place between 8.40pm and 10pm) and not just a spontaneous decision to order food as work extended into the evening, as Starmer’s account of the evening has implied.
Starmer has also claimed that after his meal he continued working. But the leaked schedule showed that after the meal he was due to return to his hotel.
In a separate report, the Sunday Times quoted an unnamed source who was present at the gathering saying Starmer did not return to work after his meal and that Foy and her staff were not present for work purposes, but just for a drink.
“Mary Foy and her staff were not working and I have not got a problem telling that to the police. They were just getting pissed. They were just there for a jolly,” the source told the paper.
Mary Foy said: “Me and my team were working during a very busy period. Including facilitating the leader’s visit. I do not believe either I or my office broke any rules and I will of course fully engage with any police investigation.”
In a tweet at the weekend, Nadine Dorries, the culture secretary, claimed the memo showed Labour’s account of the evening was “a lie”. Dominic Raab, the justice secretary and deputy prime minister, told Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday that Starmer was guilty of “rank double standards”.
Lisa Nandy, the shadow levelling up secretary, told the same programme the leaked memo confirmed Starmer was on a work visit when he was in Durham on 30 April 2021.
She said Starmer was the victim of “an absolutely desperate attempt to sling mud” and that it was “absurd” to equate this with a prime minister under investigation for 12 separate gatherings, including “karaoke parties, bring your own bottle parties, pub quizzes [and] suitcases full of wine being smuggled through the back door”.
She added: “The prime minister lied about that … Keir Starmer went on a work visit and had a break to eat. The idea that this is the same sort of thing is just a sign of a government that is tired, and is desperate and is completely out of ideas.”
A spokesperson for Starmer’s office said: “Keir was working, a takeaway was made available in the kitchen, and he ate between work demands. No rules were broken.”
Timings for events frequently slipped during a campaign and on the day of the curry the takeaway was late, a source said.
Adam Wagner, a barrister and a specialist in lockdown rules, posted a message on Twitter saying that the fact Starmer’s meal was pre-planned did not undermine claims it was necessary for work reasons. “The fact it was pre-arranged with social distancing guidelines makes it more likely to be reasonably necessary not less,” he said.
He also argued that the event was analogous to the Downing Street gathering where Johnson and his staff were photographed drinking wine and eating cheese in the No 10 garden where they were said to be discussing work matters. That event was not investigated by the Metropolitan police, Wagner pointed out.