Left-winger speaks out – but the party is not ‘entertaining’ the prospect of its leader standing down
Durham Constabulary is investigating claims that an event attended by Sir Keir along with other senior party figures and activists while campaigning last year might have broken local Covid regulations.
“I think if he actually gets a fixed penalty notice he really has to consider his position,” Ms Abbott, a left-wing critic of Sir Keir’s leadership, told LBC.
The former shadow home secretary, who served under Jeremy Corbyn, added: “I don’t think he will – I think this is a lot of hype built up by the Tory press – but if he were to get a fixed penalty notice he would have to consider his position.”
It follows Mr Corbyn’s intervention in the row. The former Labour leader, who now sits as an independent MP, said on Friday that the police decision to re-examine the case was a “very serious development”.
However, Labour frontbencher Wes Streeting told BBC Breakfast on Saturday that he would not entertain the prospect of Sir Keir, a former director of public prosecutions, resigning over alleged lockdown rule-breaking in Durham last April.
“I’m not even going to entertain the prospect of that, because I have absolute faith and confidence that Keir Starmer did the right thing all the way along,” said the shadow health secretary.
Mr Streeting said the contrast between Sir Keir and Boris Johnson would be “even sharper” after the Durham Police team had finished its investigation into the circumstances surrounding the incident.
Durham Police said they had U-turned on their earlier assessment that no offence had been committed after receiving “significant new information”.
Police have not revealed what additional details sparked the investigation, but The Times reported a “key factor” was confirmation that deputy leader Angela Rayner had attended the event. Labour had previously denied that she had been present.
The inquiry into so-called Beergate will take up to six weeks, and will see those suspected of having breached lockdown rules sent questionnaires, according to reports.
Sir Keir, after returning from a victory lap around the country following Labour’s local elections success, told reporters in London on Friday that he did not believe the event had breached the rules.
Cabinet minister Nadhim Zahawi questioned why Sir Keir was not resigning, after the Labour leader had called for Mr Johnson to quit as PM while under investigation over the No 10 Partygate row.
Mr Zahawi told Times Radio: “The public will be uncomfortable with the hypocrisy. I think he’s used one in three of his PMQs to talk about parties … He has tweeted himself, saying that if you’re under investigation, a criminal investigation, then you should resign.”
Labour’s Sadiq Khan raised eyebrows last week when he said it was a “fair point” to draw comparisons between Mr Johnson’s birthday party and Sir Keir’s takeaway curry gathering.
But the London mayor defended the party leader on Saturday, saying: “Keir is quite clear. No rules were broken. He was working incredibly hard all day, had supper in the evening. A million miles away from what Boris Johnson was found to have done.”
Shadow Welsh secretary Jo Stevens also defended the Labour leader. Asked whether Sir Keir could resign, she told Times Radio that a fine was “extremely unlikely”.
Ms Stevens added: “I think that this is a non-story, a kind of smear that’s been going on to time with the local elections, to try and hold up a Tory party that is so badly damaged by the behaviour of the prime minister.”
Following allegations of lockdown breaches by Dominic Cummings, the prime minister’s adviser at the time, Durham Constabulary said it had a policy against issuing Covid fines retrospectively.
In May 2020, an investigation concluded that Mr Cummings might have committed a “minor breach” of the law by driving to Barnard Castle, but that issuing a fixed penalty notice months later “would amount to treating Mr Cummings differently from other members of the public”.