Q&A: Keir Starmer’s most important questions about office beer during lockdown | Keir Starmer

During media interviews on Tuesday, Keir Starmer was asked questions about an event in which he was photographed with a beer last April and whether this may have violated Covid rules at the time. Here’s what we know:

What happened?

On April 30, 2021, Starmer was filmed through a window of the office of Mary Foy, the MP for the city of Durham, with a bottle of beer in hand, as people behind him eat from plates of food. The Labor leader was there as part of the by-election campaign in nearby Hartlepool, which took place six days later.

The images surfaced in January this year, amid media coverage of lockdown-breaking parties in and around Downing Street.

Did this break any rules?

While Covid rules necessarily involve some interpretation, the legal and police consensus does not appear to be. Prior to the municipal elections, which took place on the same day as the midterm elections, political campaigning was allowed, bringing party activists together. Starmer has said the images show protesters breaking for takeaway, and that with pubs and restaurants closed, it was the only option when eating out.

Lawyer and Covid rules expert Adam Wagner said this would be comparable to colleagues eating in a work canteen and thus would be considered “fairly necessary for work”. Wagner contrasted it with seemingly prearranged social events in Downing Street for which Boris Johnson and others have been fined.

What do the police say?

In February, Durham Police said there was no case to take action against Starmer’s behaviour. More recently, the force has said it has received “a number of further communications” about the matter to which it will respond, but that no investigation is underway.

Asked on Tuesday whether he had been personally approached by police, Starmer appeared to dodge the question, but Labor says no.

Why is this in the news again?

Two words: Daily Mail. The newspaper has put out a series of front-page headlines on the matter, led by Conservative MPs calling for a new inquiry into what they believe to be the equivalent of the Downing Street parties, and evidence of Labour’s hypocrisy.

The Mail has a lot of influence in conservative circles, and its particularly persistent – ​​some call it obsessive – coverage has led to more MPs and ministers commenting.

Why did Labor initially say Angela Rayner wasn’t there?

This is one of the Mail’s big problems, but it was seemingly a pretty standard news agency cock-up. Party sources say the Mail was asked a few weeks ago if the deputy leader was at the event, and a staff member misunderstood the diary entries and said she was elsewhere. It wasn’t until the post asked again and the officials checked that they realized the mistake had been made.

Rayner’s presence or absence would apparently make no difference to the legal position.

What has been the political response?

Some ultra-loyal ministers, most notably Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries, have demanded Starmer answer more questions about the event. Anne-Marie Trevelyan, the international trade secretary, said on Tuesday she would “absolutely encourage” Durham police to look at any new evidence that could surface. Starmer has said the story is “whipped up like mudslides by the Tories.”

Does the public care?

It may be early, but apparently not much so far. In January, a YouGov survey question on: whether or not Starmer “followed the lockdown rules in general or not,” was found to be 40% of the opinion that the Labor party did and 28% did not. The same question asked again on Tuesday showed that 28% still didn’t think so – but now 42% do. By contrast, 70% of people now think Johnson generally didn’t follow the rules.

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