'What a joke': Keir Starmer responds to Boris Johnson Partygate apology
In February, Labour leader Keir Starmer was cleared of breaking lockdown rules after he was filmed drinking a beer in an office in April 2021.
Perhaps that should have been the end of the matter, but it certainly wasn't as yesterday, the Daily Mail dragged the story up again by publishing what they said was video evidence that deputy leader Angela Rayner joined Starmer at the event, forcing Labour to admit she was present.
Meanwhile, Durham Police received a letter from Tory MP Richard Holden asking it to review a decision not to further investigate claims he broke the rules, and newspapers have also accused Starmer of eating a cake in his office against guidance and for hosting a social event.
What exactly is going on?
Here's everything you need to know about the story.
What lockdown rules is 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 30 April 2021, working in the run-up to the Hartlepool byelection, sparking accusations that he broke lockdown rules.
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”.
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.”
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”.
The Sun also reports that an invitation was sent to activists for a “quiz and social” on the same day Starmer was in the Durham office, though Labour say it is not how it sounds, and finally, the Mail accuses Starmer of hypocrisy for reportedly eating cakes in his office on his birthday in September 2020, when guidance advised against social gatherings indoors.
What have the police said?
The Daily Mail said the police will "review" the Durham case but the police statement seems to paint a different story. Durham Police told the MP it will "make enquiries" with the officers who first looked into claims against Starmer.
Breaking >>> @DurhamPolice leave door open to re-examining the case as Durham Deputy Chief Constable to \u201cmake enquires\u201d with Investigation Team in case against Starmer\n\n#DurhamGatepic.twitter.com/IU7jKhynaA
— Richard Holden MP (@Richard Holden MP)
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 SStarmer 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".
What have critics said?
Nevertheless, the heat is on Starmer once again. Conservative MP Brendan Clarke Smith said: "For all their sanctimony about honesty and transparency, it's plain to see that Labour have not told the truth about Keir Starmer's lockdown drinks party.
"Why would they lie about Angela Rayner's presence if they thought the event was legal? It makes you wonder what else they are hiding."
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said detectives should launch a full investigation, adding: "A consistency of the application of the law, that's what we all deserve – whether we're in London or whether we're in Durham."
What has the Labour party said?
But the Labour party have maintained innocence. Shadow work and pensions secretary Jon Ashworth told ITV News the two situations are "totally different".
"I don't think they are remotely comparable, frankly. First of all, the police are not investigating Keir Starmer, they've said he hasn't broke the rules.
He said the difference is that police have issued 50 fines in relation to Downing Street parties and there the rules were broken by the same people who decided them.
"There's a pattern of behaviour across Downing Street with rules broken on umpteen occasions in the end Boris Johnson is responsible for Downing Street.
"It's his office, it's his home, and he enforced the rules so I frankly don't think the two are comparable."
And on the Sun's "social event" report, the party said the event was virtual and not connected to the Durham event.
How have other people defended Starmer?
And people have claimed press outlets emphasising the story are deflecting from examples of Conservatives breaking lockdown rules.
Journalist Owen Jones said:
As part of operation 'Deflect from Tory scandal by spreading the shit around', the Daily Mail is obsessing over a work event that didn't violate restrictions, and a birthday celebration held when the UK wasn't under lockdown rules.\n\nDesperate, desperate stuff.pic.twitter.com/jbCnaxGVZQ
— Owen Jones \ud83c\udf39 (@Owen Jones \ud83c\udf39)
While Adam Bienkov, another journalist said that when Starmer "had a birthday cake" the UK was not in lockdown:
The Mail says Keir Starmer "flouted lockdown guidance" at the start of September 2020, by being given a birthday cake.\n\nThe UK wasn't in lockdown at the start of September 2020.pic.twitter.com/fh1d0ZcTz1
Adam Wagner, a barrister and expert in Covid law posted a thread on Twitter, explaining the legal differences between the Starmer and Johnson cases:
There is a difference in law between a pre-arranged social event (birthday party) and a meal whilst campaigning when there is nowhere else to get food.\n\nThere is no prospect of showing a pre-arranged birthday party is reasonably necessary for work - it is a purely social event
In the same way that if colleagues ate together in a canteen a lunchtime during the working day, that would be "reasonably necessary for work", although there was some guidance about not encouraging mixing between people not working together.
The problem with the gatherings at Downing Street is each of them was a pre-arranged social gathering with no work purpose. Leaving parties, Christmas parties, bring your own booze parties, birthday party. Like a list of the kind of events you clearly couldn't have at the time.