Diane Abbott: Starmer should ‘consider his position’ if fined over ‘Beergate’

Diane Abbott has said Keir Starmer should “consider his position” if he is fined by police for breaking lockdown rules by having a beer and takeaway with staff during election campaigning last year.

Abbott, who served as the shadow home secretary during Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, told LBC: “I don’t think he will – I think this is a lot of hype built up by the Tory press. But if he were to get a fixed penalty notice, he would have to consider his position.

“I’m a loyal supporter of Keir Starmer, I’m just making the common sense point that if he gets a fixed penalty notice he should consider his position.”

A longtime Corbyn loyalist, Abbott, who is MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, has been largely relegated to the backbenches since Starmer became Labour leader in April 2020.

Starmer said on Saturday that he was confident he did not breach any rules. “As I have explained a number of times, I was working in the office, we stopped for something to eat,” he said. “There was no party, no breach of rules, I am confident of that.”

However, a leaked memo published by the Mail on Sunday indicated the curry enjoyed by Starmer and colleagues in April 2021 was planned in advance on the schedule for the day’s campaigning, and that no further work was listed after the dinner.

A spokesman for Starmer 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 slip during a campaign and on the day of the curry the takeaway was late, a source told the PA news agency.

The barrister and Covid rules expert Adam Wagner said on Twitter he did not think the memo changed Labour’s defence. “The fact it was pre-arranged with social distancing guidelines makes it more likely to be reasonably necessary not less,” he said.

Allies of Starmer spoke out to defend him on Saturday. The shadow health and social care secretary, Wes Streeting, told the BBC he would not “entertain” the prospect of Starmer resigning over the alleged lockdown rule-breaking.

“I have absolute faith and confidence that Keir Starmer did the right thing all the way along,” he said. “He’s maintained that all the way along. He’s someone who practises what he preaches, and as I say the police have looked at this before and found no case to answer.

“We’re confident that’ll be the case this time. I think the contrast between Keir Starmer and Boris Johnson will be even sharper because I do think it’s ridiculous, actually, after everything that we’ve seen, Boris Johnson is still there and Conservative MPs haven’t removed Boris Johnson.”

When asked whether Starmer would resign if had broken the law, the shadow Welsh secretary, Jo Stevens, told Times Radio: “I think if we get to that situation – which I think is extremely unlikely on the basis that Durham constabulary have already investigated this complaint and found that no rules have been broken – I’m sure Keir will make a statement at that point.”

Starmer has insisted that there was “no party” and “no rules were broken” after footage emerged of him drinking a beer with colleagues at a constituency office in Durham in April 2021 while campaigning for the Hartlepool byelection.

Related: How media took nine months to leap on Starmer beer footage

At the time of the gathering, lockdown rules included a ban on indoor mixing between households.

After the conclusion of the local elections on Thursday, Durham constabulary announced it would launch an investigation into whether rules were broken in April 2021 after receiving “significant new information”.

This was a U-turn on an earlier decision regarding the case, which had found no offence had been committed.

Earlier this year Starmer said Johnson “needs to do the decent thing and resign” after the Metropolitan police began investigating alleged lockdown breaches in Downing Street.