Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has pledged to offer his resignation if he is issued a fixed penalty notice for breaking COVID rules. Sir Keir has come under pressure over an event in Durham in April 2021 with party colleagues when he was filmed having a drink and a takeaway curry was ordered.
Durham Police is now investigating the so-called “beergate” episode but the Labour leader said critics were “just trying to feed cynicism to get the public to believe all politicians are the same”.
Sir Keir, who has been a fierce critic of Boris Johnson’s rule breaking in Downing Street, said he was “absolutely clear that no laws were broken” in his case.
But he added: “If police decide to issue me with a fixed penalty notice, I would of course do the right thing and step down.”
Pressed on whether he would quit if it was determined that there was a breach of the rules but he is not issued with a fine, Sir Keir said he had not broken the rules and added: “The penalty for a COVID breach is a fixed-penalty notice, that’s a matter of law, and I’ve set out what the position is in relation to that.”
Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner, who was at the event too, also said no rules were broken and made a similar pledge that she would quit if fined.
At the time, COVID rules banned household mixing indoors, apart from working.
Over the weekend a leaked memo obtained by the Mail on Sunday revealed the meal was pre-planned, in contrast to Labour’s earlier claim that it was a decision on the night as “nowhere served food”.
On Monday, Sir Keir pulled out of a planned think-tank event as pressure mounted.
But in a hastily-arranged news conference later that day, the Labour leader agreed to face broadcast journalists to answer growing questions about how he might respond if found to have broken the law.
In a statement, he sought to draw a distinction between his position and that of Boris Johnson, who has already received a fixed penalty notice after a Met Police investigation into alleged lockdown breaches in Downing Street and Whitehall in 2020 and 2021.
That investigation, in which more than 50 fines have already been announced, is continuing.
Sir Keir said: “I believe in honour, integrity and the principle that those who make the laws must follow them.
“I believe that politicians who undermine that principle undermine trust in politics, undermine democracy, undermine Britain.
“I am absolutely clear that no laws were broken – they were followed at all times.
“I simply had something to eat while working late in the evening as any politician would do days before an election.
“The prime minister has chosen not to resign, notwithstanding that, not only has he broken the law that he made, but 50 fines being imposed in relation to the workplace that he is responsible for.
“That is his choice. But it’s very important that the public don’t think that all politicians are the same and that is why I have set out my position in terms of honour and integrity.”
The COVID-19 Bereaved Families for Justice UK campaign group, which has been critical of the government’s pandemic policies, tweeted: “This is the right decision by Keir Starmer and in contrast to Boris Johnson, shows integrity, decency and respect to the bereaved.”
Durham’s police and crime commissioner Joy Allen said she was confident that police “will carry out the investigation meticulously and with complete impartiality, without fear or favour”.
Education minister Michelle Donelan told Sky News on Monday that, if Sir Keir is fined, it was a decision for him as to whether he should step down.
But she added: “What my constituents are saying is that this whole thing smacks of sheer hypocrisy.
“He has got to search his soul after making this a top priority for the last few months at the expense of key issues like the rising cost of living.” / skynews