Keir Starmer repeatedly refuses to apologise over 'lockdown drinking picture'

Watch: Sir Keir Starmer refuses to apologise over 'lockdown drinking picture'

Sir Keir Starmer has refused to apologise after being pictured drinking alcohol inside an office during the national COVID lockdown.

The Labour leader was pictured having a drink inside a constituency office in Durham in the lead-up to the Hartlepool by-election in May last year.

At that time, the restrictions allowed people to gather indoors for work purposes but not for social gatherings.

Speaking during LBC's 'Call Keir' on Monday, Starmer said he and his team were having a takeaway between meetings.

He said no restaurants or pubs were open and the hotel he and colleagues were staying in did not serve food so “if you didn’t get a takeaway then our team wasn’t eating that evening”.

Read more: Boris Johnson in ‘last chance saloon’ after new Downing Street party claims

Keir Starmer has said reports of him drinking alcohol while working are nothing compared to Boris Johnson's behaviour (Getty)
Keir Starmer has said reports of him drinking alcohol while working do not compare with Boris Johnson's behaviour. (Getty)

"It's very straightforward, it was a very busy time," he added. "We were working in the office and a takeaway turned up and we stopped and we ate it. "

Starmer doubled down on his insistence that he and his party followed the COVID rules which were in place at the time and added: "We didn't break any rules, we were working in the office and we stopped for a takeaway.

"I understand what is going on here which is exactly what happened with Owen Paterson. There comes a point at which the Tories take everybody into the gutter with them."

Read more: Boris Johnson’s ex-adviser sorry for No10 party night before Philip’s funeral

Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during speaks during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons, London. Picture date: Wednesday January 12, 2022.
It comes amid wider allegations of repeated drinks parties being held inside Downing Street during UK lockdowns (PA)

It comes amid wider allegations of repeated drinks parties being held inside Downing Street during UK lockdowns.

On Wednesday, Boris Johnson issued an apology for spending 25 minutes in the gardens of Downing Street for a drinks event.

People had been invited to "bring their own booze" to the gathering to "make the most of the lovely weather".

It has since been reported regular “wine time Friday” gatherings were held in Downing Street, and that a special fridge was wheeled in to help staff enjoy them.

Among the most damaging claims have been reports of a party held in Downing Street on the night before the funeral for the Duke of Edinburgh, which became so raucous that a swing belonging to the PM's toddler son was broken, and staff used a suitcase to smuggle alcohol into the building.

Number 10 was forced to apologise to Buckingham Palace after it was reported.

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi arrives at BBC Broadcasting House, London, to appear on BBC One's Sunday Morning programme, which was was previously known as The Andrew Marr Show. Picture date: Sunday January 9, 2022.
Education secretary Nadhim Zahawi has denied reports of 'Operation Big Dog' - saying new policy announcements are part of the government's manifesto. (PA)

Sue Gray, the senior civil servant investigating the litany of claims about lockdown-busting parties in government, is said to have been “completely blindsided” by the latest revelations, The Times reported.

Despite calls for his resignation coming from within his own party, Johnson has so far clung onto power and efforts to save his image - dubbed "Operation Save Big Dog" - are underway.

It has been suggested Johnson could overhaul his top team, with the likes of his principal private secretary Martin Reynolds, who sent an email inviting staff to enjoy the good weather in the No 10 garden in May 2020, being shown the door as part of a move to protect the PM.

Other touted policy announcements include attempts to reduce the NHS backlog and freeze the BBC licence fee for two years, with culture secretary Nadine Dorries hinting that the current model for funding the public broadcaster could be scrapped altogether.

When asked about the reports, Zahawi told BBC Breakfast: “Honestly, I don’t recognise that at all.”

He added: “Government doesn’t operate like that.

But Zahawi said the policies are “on the list because these are the government’s manifesto”.

Speaking on Sky News, he said it would be a “good idea” to have a “single command and control” to tackle Channel crossings.

“And that includes not just naval vessels but all other vessels, including Border Force, so that you actually have a co-ordinated operation in terms of the small boats,” he said.

He said the government wants to “go after the illegal smugglers who are putting these people’s lives at risk”.

But when told those are not the ones on the boats, he added: “Well, they’re the ones we want.”

Watch: PM 'broke the law' and then 'lied' says Sir Keir Starmer