Sir Keir Starmer has said he will step down as Labour leader if police issue him with a fixed penalty notice over allegations he broke covid laws.
The Labour leader was making a televised statement after it was revealed on Friday police were investigating him over the ‘beergate’ allegations after receiving “significant” new information.
Deputy leader Angela Rayner issued a statement making a similar commitment, insisting she was at the event “working in my capacity as deputy leader and that no rules were broken”.
The Labour leader was facing calls to answer fresh questions after a leaked memo indicated the beer and curry 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.
Labour says the food was consumed between work events, meaning it was within the rules despite the ban on indoor socialising.
During his speech he said he believed in “honour and integrity” and said if he was fined by police he would “do the right thing” and step down.
He had been due to speak at an Institute for Government discussion, but pulled out on Sunday, with Labour not explaining why other than to say “plans change”.
Sir Keir also did not attend a memorial service for former MP James Brokenshire at St Margaret’s Church in Westminster, where he was expected join politicians from across the divide including the prime minister and Cabinet members.
What did Sir Keir say in his speech?
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said his integrity “requires” him to resign if he is given a fixed-penalty notice for breaching Covid laws.
Asked if people within the Labour Party were trying to undermine his authority by supporting an investigation into the event in Durham, Sir Keir said: “This is my decision about what is the right thing to do in these circumstances.
“No rules were broken, I have said that with great clarity. But this is about me. It is about what I believe in in politics.
“It is about integrity. I believe in integrity, and integrity requires me to take the course of action I have set out here, if in the event, I get a fixed-penalty notice.”
He said politicians who did not accept they should resign if they break the rules undermined trust in democracy.
“I believe that politicians who undermine that principle, undermine trust in politics, undermine our democracy and undermine Britain,” he said.
“I am absolutely clear that no laws were broken. They were followed at all times. I simply had something to eat while working late in the evening as any politician would do days before an election.
“If the police decided to issue me with a fixed penalty notice I would course do the right thing and step down.”
He also said the British public deserves politicians who “put the country first rather than themselves”.
After pledging to step down if issued with a fixed-penalty notice, Sir Keir said: “This matters. It matters because the British public deserve politicians who think the rules apply to them.
“They deserve politicians who hold themselves to the highest standards. And they deserve politicians who put the country first rather than themselves. They will always, always get that from me.”
What did he say about his calls for the Prime Minister to resign?
Sir Keir was facing pressure to set out his position, having called for the resignation of the Prime Minister and Chancellor Rishi Sunak after they were fined for a Covid breach.
Speaking on Monday after his speech he said he had taken a “very different” course of action from the Prime Minister 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, Sir Keir 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.”
When did police reveal they were investigating?
The announcement on Friday that Sir Keir would be investigated marked a U-turn after mounting pressure on the force to re-examine the ‘beergate’ allegations after footage emerged of the Labour leader drinking a beer with reportedly up to 30 colleagues at a constituency office in Durham in April 2021 during campaigning for the Hartlepool by-election.
At the time of the 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.
Durham Police had been asked by Conservative MP Richard Holden, North West Durham, to reconsider their assessment that no offence was committed during the meeting.
Sir Keir 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 indicated that as Sir Keir was working, the meal did not constitute a social event.
Sir Keir, a former director of public prosecutions, 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.”