Beergate Explained: What Lockdown Rule Is Keir Starmer Accused Of Breaking?

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(Photo: Kirsty O'Connor - PA Images via Getty Images)
(Photo: Kirsty O'Connor - PA Images via Getty Images)

(Photo: Kirsty O'Connor - PA Images via Getty Images)

Keir Starmer made a lot of political capital out of revelations that Boris Johnson broke lockdown rules, with Labour enjoying a consistent poll lead over the Conservatives thanks to the partygate affair.

The Labour leader heaped scorn on the prime minister and has demanded he resign after being fined by police.

But now Starmer is under intense pressure himself after police announced they had launched an investigation into whether he also broke the law.

Durham Constabulary previously said they believed no offence was committed. But the case has now been reopened following repeated calls from the Conservative Party.

The row, dubbed “Beergate”, has overshadowed Labour’s gains in last week’s local elections and could yet lead to Starmer having to resign.

What is the accusation?

Starmer is accused of breaking lockdown rules on April 30, 2021, by eating a curry and drinking beer indoors with Labour staff in the constituency office of City of Durham MP Mary Foy.

He was in the city campaigning in the run up to last year’s local elections which took place on May 6.

At the time, the ban on indoor mixing between households remained in place. But there was an exemption for “work purposes”.

Starmer’s critics have seized on a report in the Mail on Sunday as proof the gathering was an illegal social gathering rather than work.

The paper published an internal Labour op-note which showed an hour and 20 minutes had been set aside for “dinner” at Durham Miners Hall, after which the visit was due to end.

Op-notes are memos used to set out the timings and location of events and are part of day-to-day political logistics.

Separately, the Sunday Times quoted an eyewitness present at the event who insisted no work was done after the meal.

What is the defence?

Starmer has strongly denied he broke the law as he simply “stopped for something to eat” and then continued to work.

His allies have argued the Mail on Sunday memo actually proves the meal was included as part of Starmer’s working day.

And while the op-note does suggest the leader's day ended after he had finished eating, it does not mean no further work was actually done.

Lisa Nandy, the shadow levelling up secretary, said as a former director of public prosecutions, Starmer would not have broken the law.

He is Mr Rules, he does not not break the rules,” she told Sky News. “It was not illegal to eat.”

Wes Streeting, the shadow education secretary, also dismissed the allegations. “Breaking news: Keir Starmer has dinner,” he said.

What happens next?

Starmer being under investigation by the police has effectively neutered his ability to attack the prime minister for breaking the rules.

Johnson could very well be fined again in the coming weeks for taking part in Downing Street parties.

But it will be hard for Starmer to make any political capital out of it.

If Starmer is cleared, he will be able to return to making the case that while he followed the rules the PM did not, even if the waters have been muddied somewhat.

But if he is fined, the pressure on him to resign will be huge given he has called on Johnson to do the same.

It is also possible Durham police conclude Starmer did break the rules but do not issued him with a fixed penalty notice (FPN), as the force has previously said it has a policy of not issuing “retrospective” fines.

This was the case when it investigated Dominic Cummings’ infamous trip to Barnard Castle.

What do voters think?

According to a YouGov poll released on Monday, almost half, 46 per cent, of British voters think Starmer should resign if he is fined by the police, compared to 32 per cent who think he should not.

But the proportion of Labour voters who think he should quit in that situation, 48 per cent, is actually lower than the proportion of Tory voters, 40 per cent.

This is compared to the 57 per cent of voters who believe Johnson should resign for his rule-breaking.

But while Conservative voters are more forgiving of Starmer than Labour voters, only 29 per cent of Tories think the PM should have quit.

In the court of public opinion, will voters really forgive the Labour leader if he does not practice what he has preached? That is the dilemma that Starmer and his team are currently wrestling with as they decide what to do next.

This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.

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