Labour’s Starmer Reportedly Plans to Dodge Resignation Over ‘Beergate’ If He Isn’t Fined by Police
05:12 GMT 11.05.2022 (Updated: 08:57 GMT 11.05.2022)
Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer, who has been leading calls for UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson to resign over the so-called “partygate” row, on Monday pledged to resign if he himself were fined by police for breaking COVID-19 lockdown rules in line with a reopened probe into a gathering in Durham in April 2021.
Sir Keir Starmer has no intention of resigning
as leader of the UK Labour party unless he is slapped with a Fixed Penalty Notice (FPN) by Durham Constabulary for breaking COVID-19 lockdown rules, reported British newspaper The Daily Telegraph.
The opposition leader, who stated on 9 May that he firmly adheres to "the principle that those who make the laws must follow them", in reality hopes to dodge the bullet in the “beergate” scandal on a technicality, the paper claims, citing sources in Labour.
The Durham police force has reopened an investigation
into the "beergate" gathering that took place in April 2021. At the time, indoor mixing was banned because of “Step 2” COVID-19 laws set in place across England to curb the spread of the respiratory disease.
Captured through the window of a building in Durham in the run up to the Hartlepool by-election, footage of Starmer drinking beer with others in the office of City of Durham MP Mary Foy had originally been published in spring 2021.
After reviewing the video, Durham Constabulary had confirmed in February 2021 that it did not believe an offence had been committed by Keir Starmer on that occasion.
However, with the “partygate” row spiralling to new heights after UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, together with his wife Carrie and Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak were fined
by the Metropolitan Police, Starmer is facing fresh calls to back up his claims that no coronavirus rules were broken by him. Furthermore, Tory ministers have urged Durham Police to reopen an investigation into what had been dubbed “beergate”.
A Fixed Penalty Notice (FPN) is typically a minor fine for an alleged criminal offence, that, unless settled, will result in prosecution. As Durham constabulary has a policy of not issuing retrospective fines, the newspaper noted, it might decide to apply the same treatment to Keir Starmer.
This is precisely what happened back in 2020, at the start of the pandemic and the ensuing lockdown measures.
, who served as chief adviser to Boris Johnson from 24 July 2019 until his resignation on 13 November 2020, had been reported to the police force for his now-infamous trip to Barnard Castle.
The No 10 ex-strategist drove 260 miles to Durham from London during strict lockdown conditions, drawing scrutiny over perceived double standards.
However, detectives opted against issuing him an FPN. Instead, they released a statement saying that the political strategist "may" have broken the rules.
Detectives reportedly privately believed the rules had been breached by Cummings, but were loath to act as "judge and jury" on the matter and baulked at issuing a retrospective fine.
So far, Durham constabulary has been tight-lipped in public regarding the ongoing probe. However, a police source was cited as saying that it would be very difficult for officers to act differently over "beergate."
"The force was very clear when dealing with Dominic Cummings that everyone must be treated in the same way. The problem with that policy is that if the force decides to hand Sir Keir Starmer a fixed penalty notice they will be accused of treating him differently from Mr Cummings and everyone else. It could be a real headache for those running the investigation," stated the source.
Some insiders believe that Durham Constabulary might be inspired by the recent actions of the Metropolitan Police. The Met launched a retrospective investigation into a total of 12 gatherings at Downing Street and Whitehall that reportedly breached strict coronavirus lockdown rules in the UK between 2020 and 2021. The evidence for the ongoing probe was gathered by senior civil servant Sue Gray during her investigation and was handed over to Scotland Yard.
The fact that Durham constabulary has already gone further than it did over Dominic Cummings’ alleged rule-breaking actions
by launching a full-scale investigation, with six officers assigned to the case full-time, may indicate that there is more to come.
The Labour party has reportedly assembled a dossier of evidence
to submit to the police to prove Starmer's innocence. This is said to include WhatsApp messages from staff revealing that some aides remained at the office to work after the food and beers had been consumed at the April 2021 gathering. However, the evidence purportedly does not specifically refer to Keir Starmer as having stayed working beyond 10pm.
The Labour leader has consistently maintained that it had been a work gathering.
“We were working, it was days before the election. We paused for something to eat, there was no party, no rules were broken - there's nothing I can add to that,” he has stated.
Any actions from the police other than issuing a FPN would not be a resigning matter for Starmer, sources close to the Labour leader and a member of his shadow cabinet were cited by the outlet as saying.
"The law around breaching Covid regulations is that you get a fixed penalty notice. We can only speak to the law on it," said one insider.
Shadow education secretary, Bridget Phillipson, on Tuesday reiterated a vehement denial that Starmer had broken any COVID-19 laws, and added:
"The way in which you are found to have broken the law is when you are issued with a fine and it is determined that you have broken the law. That is the penalty for a Covid breach and that is why he has been clear that in the event he is found to have broken the law [...] he takes it incredibly seriously."