Police step up probe into Labour ‘beergate’

Sir Keir Starmer and Angela Rayner have received questionnaires from Durham Constabulary as the force investigates a gathering held in party offices during lockdown.

Both the Labour leader and his deputy have said they will stand down if fined by police.

Sir Keir was caught on camera drinking a beer in an MP’s office after a day of campaigning for the local elections in Durham in April 2021.

Ms Rayner was also at the event, dubbed by some as “beergate” in the wake of the Downing Street “partygate” investigation into lockdown breaches.

Labour Leader Sir Kier Starmer and Deputy Leader Angela Rayner at the launch of of Labour's 2022 local election campaign at The Brown Cow, Burrs Country Park, Bury, Greater Manchester

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.

But Labour has argued that food was consumed between work events, meaning it was within the rules.

Last month, Durham Constabulary announced they had reversed an earlier decision that no offence had been committed, after receiving “significant new information”.

Sir Keir has previously said he “put everything on the line” by promising to step down if he receives a fixed penalty notice, and that resigning would be “the right thing to do”.

A Labour Party spokesperson said yesterday: “Keir Starmer and Angela Rayner have received questionnaires from Durham Constabulary.”

Labour has sought to contrast Sir Keir’s actions with those of Boris Johnson, who has refused to quit after being fined by the Met Police over a gathering in No 10 in June 2020 to mark his 56th birthday.

Labour sources are confident they can prove the Durham event was work-related and that those present were taking a break to eat while working late on preparations for the Hartlepool by-election.

Meanwhile, Boris Johnson’s ethics advisor has suggested the prime minister’s partygate fine may have breached the Ministerial Code.

Lord Geidt, the independent advisor on the Ministerial Code, said a “legitimate question” had arisen as to whether the case of the fixed penalty notice (FPN) might have constituted a breach of the “overarching duty within the Ministerial Code of complying with the law”.

The prime minister was issued with an FPN over a birthday party thrown in his honour in the Cabinet Room in June 2020 at a time when indoor socialising was banned.

Lord Geidt also questioned the prime minister’s willingness to “take responsibility for his own conduct” in relation to the ministerial rules and delivered a withering assessment of exchanges with Downing Street officials.

This included Lord Geidt advising them that Mr Johnson should be “ready to offer public comment” on his obligations under the code, noting this had “not been heeded”.

Mr Johnson responded in writing to Lord Geidt by claiming the FPN “did not breach” the Ministerial Code as there was “no intent to break the law”.