Why Keir Starmer's Beergate was a big fuss about nothing

Why Keir Starmer's Beergate was a big fuss about nothing
'Quiet weekend?': Johnson tries to taunt Starmer over Beergate

Keir Starmer did not break Covid laws and will not be fined over Beergate, Durham Police have announced today.

A spokesperson added: “There is no case to answer for a contravention of the regulations, due to the application of an exception, namely reasonably necessary work.”

It has taken a while to get to this point after he was filmed drinking a beer while having food in an office in April 2021.

He was initially cleared of breaking lockdown rules in February 2022.

But that wasn't enough for critics and in May, the Daily Mail dragged the story up again, leading Durham Police to confirm it was reopening the case on 6th May.

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Why was so much fuss made about so little?

Here's everything you need to know about the story.

What lockdown rules was Starmer and the Labour party accused of breaking?

Starmer was filmed swigging from a beer bottle in the City of Durham MP Mary Foy's office, on 30th April 2021, working in the run-up to the Hartlepool by-election, sparking accusations that he broke lockdown rules. At the time the country was in Step 2 out of lockdown three and people were prohibited from socialising with people outside their households but there were exceptions for key workers.

But speaking at the time the footage was published, Starmer defended his actions on LBC. He said no restaurants or pubs were open and the hotel in which he and colleagues were staying did not serve food, so “if you didn’t get a takeaway then our team wasn’t eating that evening”. He said they returned to work after eating the meal.

Asked if he was prepared to apologise, Starmer said: “We didn’t break any rules, we were working in the office and we stopped for a takeaway.”

He added: “We did nothing wrong.”

In February, a spokesperson for Durham's police force seemed to agree with him. They said: “We do 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.”

But in the wake of Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak's fines for attending an event in Downing Street in 2020 when the prime minister was "ambushed with a cake" on his birthday, some Tories have said the events are comparable, with MP Richard Holden calling for Starmer's beer to be looked at again.

Reopening the case, The Mailinterviewed witnesses who claimed the event looked sociable to them: "I have never seen a work meeting with people sitting on tables, drinking San Miguel and standing around eating off plates," one reportedly said.

"They weren’t having a meeting. There is a clear difference between a meeting and what was happening there, which was entirely social.’"

Meanwhile, the situation has got stickier when the Labour party has admitted that Rayner was with Starmer at the event in question.

The party acknowledged it had previously told journalists she was not at the event last year, but a source insisted it was a “mistake made in good faith”.

Then, a leaked memo suggested the takeaway was planned as part of the itinerary for the day, with no further work apparently scheduled after dinner.

What have the police said?

Originally, the police's response didn't change much.The Daily Mail initially said the police will "review" the Durham case but the police statement painted a different story. Durham Police told the MP it will "make enquiries" with the officers who first looked into claims against Starmer.

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Durham Constabulary told the press: "[We] were sent a letter by Richard Holden MP on April 22.

"As a courtesy, we have replied to Mr Holden to confirm we have received that letter and will consider its contents before responding in due course."

And Labour said it was wrong to say the letter suggested an investigation into whether Starmer broke coronavirus rules was being re-examined.

A spokesman for the party told journalists: "I think some of the characterisation of the letter has been inaccurate." He said the incident in question was a "work event".

Starmer also confirmed the police had not been in touch with him again.

But on 6th May, police said they were reopening the case:

Today the police released the following statement:

Following the emergence of significant new information, an investigation was launched by Durham Constabulary into a gathering at the Miners' Hall, in Redhills, Durham on April 30 2021. That investigation has now concluded.

"A substantial amount of documentary and witness evidence was obtained which identified the 17 participants and their activities during that gathering. Following the application of the evidential Full Code Test, it has been concluded that there is no case to answer for a contravention of the regulations, due to the application of an exception, namely reasonably necessary work.

"Accordingly, Durham Constabulary will not be issuing any fixed penalty notices in respect of the gathering and no further action will be taken.

"The investigation has been thorough, detailed and proportionate. The final evidence supplied by participants from the local constituency was returned to Durham Police on July 5 and analysed by investigators against all the evidence before the investigation was concluded on July 8 2022."

What has the Labour party said?

But the Labour party maintained its innocence. on 9th May Starmer gave a televised statement to press promising to stand down if he received a fine.

Some said he was forced to say that as he had called on Johnson to resign for breaking the rules too, so he could have been accused of hypocrisy if he didn't do the same. But given his legal background, people reckoned he knew what he was doing and that he wouldn't be fined.

Speaking outside Labour's London headquarters, he said: "Ever since the first Covid lockdown, I have always followed the rules. In that time, the British people have made heart-wrenching sacrifices."

"People were entitled to expect that politicians would follow the same rules as everyone else," he added.

"The idea that I would then casually break those rules is wrong. And frankly, I don't believe those accusing me believe it themselves. They are just trying to feed cynicism, to get the public to believe all politicians are the same.

"I am here to say that they're not. I believe in honour, integrity, and the principle that those who make the laws must follow them. And I believe that politicians who undermine that principle, undermine trust in politics, undermine our democracy, and undermine Britain.

"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. But if the police decide to issue me with a fixed penalty notice, I would of course do the right thing and step down."

You could put it like this:

Following the police reopening the case, the Labour Party said: “We’re obviously happy to answer any questions there are and we remain clear that no rules were broken.”

And after confirmation he would not be fined, a Labour Party spokeswoman said: "Keir Starmer and Angela Rayner have always been clear that no rules were broken in Durham.

"The police have completed their investigation and have agreed saying that there is no case to answer."

And Starmer and Rayner said:

Why was his beer different?

In April, Adam Wagner, a barrister and expert in Covid law posted a thread on Twitter, explaining the legal differences between the Starmer and Johnson cases, noting that Stamer's curry was not pre-arranged or purely social, unlike some of the alleged events that happened in Downing Street during lockdown:

When the Mail ran a story about the issue and used an image of Starmer eating a curry that was taken in 2015, it was criticised further for being misleading, though some said using stock photos was standard journalistic practice.

Labour MP Chris Bryant and Dorries had a tiff about the issue on Twitter:

People also questioned the consistency of the Mail's editorial opinion, given their response to Johnson being fined over Partygate was to run the following front page, suggesting it was unimportant compared to the war in Ukraine:

And remember Richard Holden, the MP who went to the police and asked them to look into the case again? Well, it turns out him and his team ate food while working too, on a night in the same week as Starmer did. The Mirror has the story here, suggesting a degree of hypocrisy.

Holden told the publication: “Alongside MPs from all parties, I was delighted to attend the Armed Forces Parliamentary Scheme briefing with the Gurkhas in Folkestone.

“All MPs had lunch of a curry dish and orange squash with our brave young recruits to learn about their lives back home to give us a better understanding of why they choose to serve in Britain’s armed forces.”

What do people think now?

And now the investigation has been concluded, here's how people are reacting:

A storm in a beer glass after all.

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