Explained: Beergate - what Starmer did and what could happen next

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Explained: Beergate - What Starmer Did And What Could Happen Next Explained: Beergate - What Starmer Did And What Could Happen Next
The UK Labour leader has promised to resign if he is given a fixed-penalty notice. Photo: PA Images
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David Lynch, PA Political Staff

UK Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer promised on Monday to resign if he is given a fixed-penalty notice for the event now known as 'Beergate'.

Here is a guide to what happened, and what could happen next...

What is Beergate?

In April 2021, the Sun newspaper first published an image clipped from a video which showed Mr Starmer drinking beer with Labour activists at an event in Durham.

Mr Starmer was joined by the City of Durham’s Labour MP Mary Foy and deputy leader Angela Rayner at the Durham Miners Hall, where they also ate curry while campaigning in the 2021 local elections campaign.

The picture has been the source of a minor attack line for Conservatives in the last year.

But as the scandal of multiple parties in Downing Street during lockdown resulted in a police investigation, and Mr Starmer led calls for British prime minister Boris Johnson to resign, Labour’s opponents have questioned whether the opposition leader is guilty of double standards.

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Durham Constabulary revealed on Friday following the results of the local elections that it would reopen an investigation into the event.

What does Mr Starmer say he did?

The Labour leader has maintained that no rules were broken, and claimed he and other Labour colleagues returned to late night work once they had finished the meal and beers.

“We were working, we stopped for food, no party, no rules were broken,” Mr Starmer told the BBC last week.

He has also accused the Conservatives of “mudslinging” ahead of this year’s local elections.

At the time of the Durham event, Covid rules meant that indoor gatherings were prevented apart from for work purposes.

What do his opponents say?

UK Labour leader Keir Starmer holding a can of ‘Barnard Castle Eye Test’ beer during a visit to the Brewdog Pub and Brewery in the City of London (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

The Conservatives have accused Mr Starmer of hypocrisy, pointing out that he called on the Prime Minister to resign over the Partygate scandal before a criminal investigation into the parties at Downing Street had been opened.

Opponents have also raised questions about whether he and other Labour party workers did return to work after finishing the meal.

Britain's Brexit opportunities minister Jacob Rees-Mogg said the opposition leader had “set rather a high standard” with his calls for Mr Johnson to resign when asked about Beergate.

Meanwhile, Richard Holden, Conservative MP for North West Durham, who pressed police to investigate after presenting new evidence, said it was “vital that the man who wants to be prime minister is held to the same standard as the prime minister and everybody else”.

What happens if he is fined?

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If Mr Starmer receives a fixed-penalty notice, a fine for breaking Covid rules, then he has promised to resign.

In a press statement on Monday afternoon, he said he would do the “right thing” and step down if he is fined by police for breaking Covid regulations.

It is believed by some that Mr Starmer stepping down will put pressure on the prime minister to do the same following Mr Johnson’s fine for breaching Covid rules.

Mr Johnson received the fine for attending a birthday party held for in Number 10 Downing Street during 2020 and has so far refused to stand down as a result.

The prime inister has also been accused of misleading the British parliament about the parties.

What happens if Sir Keir is not fined?

If Mr Starmer is not fined, then his supporters will likely say he behaved honourably and with principle by promising to stand down in the event of a fine.

But the gamble is expected to still pressure the prime minister to act in a similar manner by setting an example for Mr Johnson.

In his speech on Monday, the Labour leader stressed that he believes “in integrity” in politics.

What have Durham Constabulary previously said about investigating past Covid breaches?

The force has previously taken the position that it does not issue retrospective fines for Covid breaches.

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When former Number 10 adviser Dominic Cummings was accused of breaking lockdown rules by travelling to County Durham in 2020, the constabulary said it had a “general approach” not “to take retrospective action” regarding Covid fines, “since this would amount to treating Mr Cummings differently from other members of the public”.

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