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Keir Starmer is “Mr Rules” and did not break lockdown by having a beer and curry at a campaign event, Lisa Nandy has said.
Durham Police have said they will re-investigate Conservative Party claims the Labour leader breached Covid regulations in April 2021.
At the time of the Durham gathering there was a ban on indoor mixing between households, but there was an exemption for work.
Labour has insisted that the curry was consumed between work events, meaning it was within the rules.
The Mail on Sunday published a memo 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.
Dominic Raab, the justice secretary, told Sky News on Sunday that Starmer had “a bunch of questions to answer” and accused him of “rank double standards” and “complete hypocrisy”.
But Nandy, the shadow levelling up secretary, told the same broadcaster it was “absurd” to compare the accusations against Starmer to Boris Johnson’s “serial partying”.
She said rather than undermining Starmer’s explanation, the Mail on Sunday report actually showed “exactly” what happened.
“He went on a work visit, he stopped to eat at various times during the day as was factored into the work visit,” she said.
“This is a guy who’s self isolated six times during the pandemic, I don’t know a single other person who did that.
“He is Mr Rules, he does not not break the rules, he was the director of public prosecutions, not somebody who goes around tearing up rules when it suits him, in stark contrast to the prime minister.”
She added it in no way was similar to Johnson “who was under investigation by the police for 12 separate gatherings” which “included karaoke parties, bring your own bottle parties, pub quizzes, suitcases full of wine being smuggled through the back door”.
“Keir Starmer went on a work visit and had a break to eat,” she said. “It was not illegal to eat.”
But separately, a source who was present told the Sunday Times: “It has been claimed that Starmer worked during the curry and then after the curry. None of those two things happened. He did not go back to work to the best of my knowledge.”
The row has also reignited internal Labour splits. Speaking to HuffPost UK, an ally of Starmer blamed the briefing on “an embittered former employee who can’t get over the fact Jeremy Corbyn isn’t leader any more”.
Diane Abbott also said Starmer should “consider his position” if he is fined. The former shadow home secretary, a close ally of Corbyn, told LBC: “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.”
Starmer told reporters on Saturday: “As I have explained a number of times, I was working in the office, we stopped for something to eat. There was no party, no breach of rules, I am confident of that.”
He said he would not resign and would lead Labour into the next general election.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.