Beergate: What is the 'Beergate' scandal, what were the lockdown rules in April 2021, what has Sir Keir Starmer said, will he resign and how does it compare to 'Partygate'?

LABOUR leader Sir Keir Starmer is facing an investigation into a potential breach of lockdown rules in early 2021.

Monday, 9th May 2022, 12:21 pm
Updated Monday, 9th May 2022, 4:29 pm

Durham police announced an investigation into the incident in April last year, which took place during the campaign for the Hartlepool by-election.

Dubbed ‘beergate’, senior members of the Conservative Party have accused the Labour leader of 'rank hypocrisy' over the incident.

Sir Keir has always insisted that the meal was within the rules and took place while staff were working – and restaurants in the area were closed.

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Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer following the announcement that he is to be investigated by police amid allegations he broke lockdown rules last year, after receipt of 'significant new information'.

However a leaked memo published over the weekend showed that the takeaway meal had been pre-planned as part of his itinerary for that day.

He has also faced criticism for denying that deputy leader Angela Rayner was not present, before later admitting that she was.

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The memo also indicated that no further work was scheduled after the dinner.

But what is 'Beergate' and what were the lockdown rules in April 2021?

Here's everything you need to know:

What is 'Beergate'?

'Beergate' centres around footage which emerged of Sir Keir having a beer and a meal with colleagues in April 2021.

This was largely dismissed as a politically motivated counterattack from the right-wing press following the 'Partygate' scandal, which comprises a series of allegations of parties at 10 Downing Street during lockdown.

Initially Durham police declined to investigate the meal when the story first emerged last year, however pressure continued to grow on the force to open an investigation in recent weeks – including with North West Durham MP Richard Holden writing to the force pushing for it.

It was announced on Friday that an investigation had been opened into ‘beergate’ by Durham police.

The Sunday papers reported that a unit of six detectives has been set up to look into it.

Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab accused Sir Keir of ‘complete hypocrisy’ telling Sky News: ‘It’s the rank double standards that drive people crazy.

‘He needs to fess up and answer all of the holes in the account that he gave for that beer-and-curry event in Durham.’

The Sun reported that Met Police bodyguards, who had accompanied Sir Keir to Durham, witnessed those in attendance drinking beers and eating a £200 order of curry.

According to the tabloid newspaper, witnesses suggest that dozens of MPs and aides gathered in Miners' Hall in Durham, with the police car still there late into the evening.

What did the memo say?

The Daily Mail published a leaked memo on May 8 that showed the dinner in Durham which had been listed on Sir Keir’s schedule in April 2021 during the local election and Hartlepool by-election campaigns.

The document states that there would be a 'dinner in Miners Hall' with City of Durham MP Mary Foy between 8.40pm and 10pm.

A note in the document also indicates that a member of staff in Sir Keir's office was to arrange a takeaway curry from the Spice Lounge.

After the dinner, the memo read that Sir Keir was to go back to his hotel.

Sir Keir previously claimed he 'paused for food' and continued working after the meal, saying 'the idea that nobody works at 10 o'clock at night is absurd'.

Separately, a source who was present that evening told the Sunday Times: ‘It has been claimed that Starmer worked during the curry and then after the curry. None of those two things happened. He did not go back to work to the best of my knowledge.’

The source added that some of those present with Sir Keir and deputy Angela Rayner were not working at all and 'were just there for a jolly'.

A Facebook post from MP Mary Kelly Fox talked about a ‘greasy meal’ which Robert Holden claims is slang for drinking, but others have argued could have simply been a typo.

What were the lockdown restrictions in April 2021?

At the time of 'Beergate', 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.

What have the police said?

A police statement on Friday, May 6 said: ‘Earlier this year, Durham Constabulary carried out an assessment as to whether Covid-19 regulations had been breached at a gathering in Durham City on April 30 2021.

‘At that time, it was concluded that no offence had been established and therefore no further action would be taken.

‘Following the receipt of significant new information over recent days, Durham Constabulary has reviewed that position and now, following the conclusion of the pre-election period, we can confirm that an investigation into potential breaches of Covid-19 regulations relating to this gathering is now being conducted.’

The police did not elaborate on the new information.

The force previously said they did not believe ‘an offence has been established in relation to the legislation and guidance in place at that time and will therefore take no further action in relation to this matter’.

What has Sir Keir Starmer said?

The results of the recent local elections in England have been overshadowed by the news of the new investigation.

Sir Keir has insisted that there was 'no party' when he was asked about police investigating the claims that he breached lockdown rules last year by drinking a beer with colleagues.

Speaking to the press, the Labour leader said: ‘As I’ve explained a number of times, we were working in the office, we stopped for something to eat – no party, no breach of the rules.

‘The police obviously have got their job to do, we should let them get on with it.

‘But I’m confident that no rules were broken.’

When he was asked what the difference was between a curry with colleagues and the event the prime minister was fined for, Sir Keir said there was 'no breach of the rules'

He told a reporter: ‘Well I was working, I stopped for something to eat, no party, no breach of the rules.

‘Obviously I understand the police need to do their job, we need to let them get on with that but I’m confident there was no breach of the rules.’

Will Sir Keir Starmer resign?

Sir Keir announced in a statement today (May 9) that he would step down as the leader of the Labour Party if he is fined.

He said: ‘I simply had something to eat while working late in the evening, as any politician would do days before an election, but if the police decide to issue me with a fixed penalty notice, I would, of course, do the right thing and step down.’

Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner, who was at the event, also said that she would step down if she is found to have broken the rules.

How does 'Beergate' compare to 'Partygate'?

While the Starmer incident involves one event that took place at a time when indoor gatherings were legal if 'reasonably necessary', the Downing Street allegations concern around 17 parties that took place at various stages during lockdown restrictions.

As a result of the Downing Street allegations, more than 50 fixed penalty notices have been issued.

Shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves told BBC Breakfast that there is a 'world of difference' between the industrial scale of rule-breaking at number 10 and 'Beergate'.

She said: ‘The Prime Minister and the Chancellor have been fined by the Metropolitan Police whereas Durham police – where this alleged incident took place – said there’s no case to answer.

‘The police have been very clear that in 10 Downing Street rule-breaking did happen and in Durham, Keir Starmer did not break the rules.

‘Boris Johnson has lied and lied again, and then covered up the lies to Parliament about what happened at number 10.

‘There is a world of difference between the rule-breaking and the fines that the Prime Minister and his office have received compared to what Keir did – which is basically working all day in an office and stopping to have some food and a drink.’