Rayner: I will step down if I committed a criminal offence

Labour Deputy Leader Angela Rayner launches the party's campaign for the May 2 local elections in the Dudley North constituency
Angela Rayner has also faced questions about whether she should have paid capital gains tax on the 2015 sale of her council house, and whether it was her principal address - Eddie Keogh/Getty Images Europe

Angela Rayner has promised to step down as the deputy leader of the Labour Party if she is found to have committed a criminal offence.

In a defiant statement, she said she was “completely confident” that she had followed the rules at all times after police launched an investigation into claims that she had broken electoral law.

She also accused the Conservatives of reporting her to the police as a political tactic.

Greater Manchester Police is investigating claims that Ms Rayner wrongly declared which house was her permanent address on the electoral register, which is a criminal offence.

She has also faced questions about whether she should have paid capital gains tax on the 2015 sale of her council house owing to the confusion over whether it was her principal residence or whether she was living with her then-husband at a separate address.

Senior Tories demanded that she resign – pointing out that she and Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, had called on Boris Johnson to quit when police launched an investigation into him over partygate.

Sir Keir now faces a test of his authority after the Labour Left jumped to defend his deputy over the police investigation. Soon after the announcement, both Ed Miliband and Sadiq Khan came out with strong messages backing the frontbencher.

But it took Sir Keir leader four hours to show his support publicly. In an interview with ITV, he refused three times to say whether Ms Rayner would have to quit if police charged her.

In her statement on Friday night, Ms Rayner said: “If I committed a criminal offence, I would of course do the right thing and step down.

“I’ve repeatedly said I would welcome the chance to sit down with the appropriate authorities, including the police and HMRC, to set out the facts and draw a line under this matter. I am completely confident I’ve followed the rules at all times.

“I have always said that integrity and accountability are important in politics. That’s why it’s important that this is urgently looked at, independently and without political interference.

“I make no apologies for having held Conservative ministers to account in the past. Indeed, the public would rightly expect me to do so as a deputy leader of the opposition.”

She added: “We have seen the Tory party use this playbook before – reporting political opponents to the police during election campaigns to distract from their record.

“I will say, as I did before, if I committed a criminal offence, I would of course do the right thing and step down. The British public deserves politicians who know the rules apply to them.

“The questions raised relate to a time before I was an MP, and I have set out my family’s circumstances and taken expert tax and legal advice. I look forward to setting out the facts with the relevant authorities at the earliest opportunity.”

The Crown Prosecution Service states that giving false information on the electoral register is a criminal offence, and pursuing “major infringements” would normally be in the public interest.

But it adds: “Proceedings for other infringements may not be in the public interest in situations [such as] a genuine mistake or misunderstanding” or the offence being of a “technical nature”.

That means Ms Rayner could be found to have broken the rules but not face a charge. It could also mean she would not have to step down if she came to an agreement with HMRC to pay more tax.

The home on Lowndes Lane, in Stockport, at which it is alleged Angela Rayner lived while being registered on the electoral role at a different address
The home on Lowndes Lane, in Stockport, at which it is alleged Angela Rayner lived while being registered on the electoral role at a different address - Ryan Jenkinson/Story Picture Agency

It would be difficult for Sir Keir to remove Ms Rayner as deputy leader because it is a position elected by members. However, Sir Keir could remove other positions, such as shadow local government spokesman, from her.

If he did try to remove her, he is likely to face a backlash from the Left of his party. Ms Rayner often touts her-working class background and trade union roots as key to Labour’s appeal to the party’s heartlands.

Sir Keir, who has tried to move the party more into the centre ground since taking over from Jeremy Corbyn, has a fraught relationship with Ms Rayner. When he tried to demote her in 2021, she stood firm and ended up being handed extra jobs.

On Friday, Mr Miliband said: “We are absolutely 100 per cent behind Angela. We are absolutely confident that she has complied with the rules. She welcomes the fact she can set out the facts.

“My message to the country is that we are incredibly proud of Angela Rayner, our deputy leader. She is an inspiring person – she is exactly the kind of person we need in politics.

“If a Labour government is elected, I look forward to Angela Rayner serving as deputy prime minister. Frankly, the Conservative Party is a desperate party that has nothing to say to the country about the big issues that it faces.”

Mr Khan, the Labour Mayor of London, said he was fully confident that his “best friend” would be cleared by the police, saying: “I fully support Angela Rayner – I’m confident that she’ll be vindicated in relation to the police investigation.

“I’m fully confident in Angela – she’s one of my best friends, and I’m sure she’ll be cleared.”

Sadiq Khan and Ed Miliband
Sadiq Khan and Ed Miliband defended Ms Rayner as they launched a climate action plan in London on Friday - Victoria Jones/PA

Sir Keir did not comment on the investigation until about 2pm on Friday – four hours after police had made their announcement. He had been on a visit to Barrow-in-Furness to launch his party’s new nuclear policy.

A spokesman said he had been in a secure area at Barrow and therefore could not make a comment until later.

Sir Keir said: “We welcome this investigation, because it will allow a line to be drawn in relation to this matter. I am fully confident that Angela Rayner has not broken the rules. She will cooperate with the investigation, as you would expect, and it is really a matter for the police.”

He repeatedly refused to say whether Ms Rayner should resign as deputy leader if she is found to have broken the law.

Pushed on the question, he said: “The investigation is starting today, she’ll cooperate with that, we need to let the police get on with their job.”

Asked again, he said: “She has given answers many times over – she is going to cooperate, police just need the space and the time to get on with the job that they need to do.”

Both Ms Rayner and Sir Keir had called for Mr Johnson to stand down when police launched an investigation into partygate.

They both also said they would resign if they were charged over “beergate”, where the Labour leader and colleagues drank beer and had a takeaway curry after a campaigning event in April 2021, a time when most indoor gatherings were banned.

Grant Shapps accused Ms Rayner of “double standards”, saying she had “spent her political career calling people out” and demanding transparency but had failed to show the same openness about the claims against her.

“I think the double standards have been extraordinary,” he said. “This is something which is a serious matter. It’s important that it’s looked into properly and I welcome the idea that the police are doing that.”

Michael Fabricant, a Tory MP, said: “Why is it that people, so quick to call for the resignation of others when they are investigated for possible wrongdoing, are so slow to take their own advice? I am weary of the hypocrisy of so many politicians.”

A Number 10 source said: “We believe that a police investigation should be allowed to run its course before making any judgments, unlike Angela Rayner, but clearly there are still questions for Keir Starmer and the Labour Party to answer here, and they should come clean now.”