Watch: I will step down if I'm fined, says Sir Keir Starmer
Sir Keir Starmer has pledged to resign as Labour leader if he is fined for breaking COVID lockdown laws.
Starmer has faced a growing number of questions over an evening in which he and Labour staff members drank beer while taking a break during campaigning in the local elections last year.
Durham Police initially cleared him over the allegations, saying no rules had been broken, but on Friday announced the investigation was being reopened after "significant new information" had come to light.
Speaking on Monday, Starmer insisted he followed the rules, and said: "The idea that i would casually break those rules are wrong and I don't believe those that accuse me of believe it themselves."
He added that he thought the accusations were an attempt to "make the public believed that all politicians are the same."
Starmer continued: "I am absolutely clear that no laws were broken.
"I simply had something to eat while working late in the evening as any politician would do days before the election.
"I would of course do the right thing and step down. This matters. It matters because the British public deserve politicians who think the rules applies to them."
Labour's deputy leader Angela Rayner also pledged to leave her position if she was also fined for being in attendance.
In a statement she said: "I've always been clear that I was at the in Durham working in my capacity as deputy leader and that no rules were broken.
"Eating during a long day's work was not against the rules. We have a prime minister who has been found to have broken the rules, lied about it and then been fined.
"If I were issued with a fine, I would do the decent thing and step down."
Starmer stressed he had taken a “very different” course of action that what Johnson did when Partygate first broke.
Asked if it was hypocritical to have not already resigned after having called for the Prime Minister to resign in a tweet in January when the Partygate police investigation opened, Starmer said: “I have set out my position very clearly.
“I have taken a very different course to the prime minister, who of course did break the laws and then didn’t resign.
“I am setting out a very different course, I have different principles to the Prime Minister and I think it is very important that the public see not all politicians are the same.
“I am very different to the prime minister in this regard in terms of the principle, the honour and the integrity of the office that I hold.”
Watch: Streeting - Police won't find any reason to fine Starmer
Another said: “He feels a huge sense of honour. He is the real deal. But he is less sure of himself on politics and determining what action would be best for him and the party.”
Boris Johnson has already been issued a fixed penalty notice by the Metropolitan Police after being found to have broken the COVID-19 laws his government enforced in 2020.
Downing Street has refused to comment on whether Starmer should resign.
A YouGov poll has found 24% of UK adults think the Labour leader "definitely" broke the rules, while an additional 30% think he "probably did".
Only 5% say they think he "definitely did not", and 16% say he "probably" didn't.
The Labour leader’s assertion came as a leaked memo, published by the Mail on Sunday, indicated the takeaway in Durham had been planned as part of his itinerary for the day of campaigning in April 2021 and no further work was scheduled after the dinner.
At the time of the Durham gathering, non-essential retail and outdoor venues including pub gardens were open, but social distancing rules – which included a ban on indoor mixing between households – remained in place.
Starmer previously said no restaurants or pubs were open at the time of the alleged breach so “if you didn’t get a takeaway then our team wasn’t eating that evening”.
Labour has also indicated that Starmer was working, so the meal did not constitute a social event.
Senior Tories have accused Starmer of hypocrisy over the row after the Labour leader demanded the prime minister’s resignation over alleged lockdown breaches in No 10 before the police had issued any fines.
Johnson, his wife Carrie, and chancellor Rishi Sunak are among those to have already been fined for breaking COVID laws.
Police have not said what sparked the probe but The Times reported a “key factor” was confirmation that deputy leader Angela Rayner attended the evening. Labour had previously denied she had been present.
The Daily Telegraph said the so-called Beergate investigation will take up to six weeks, with those suspected of having breached lockdown rules due to be sent questionnaires.