RICHARD KAY: Evasions, half truths and downright lies – how Sir Keir’s story unravelled
Piece by piece, the true story of Sir Keir Starmer and Beergate is being dragged out into the public gaze. And what a squalid story of obfuscation, evasion and downright untruths is emerging.
Yesterday, in a historic victory for the Daily Mail’s campaign to get to the bottom of the saga, Durham Constabulary finally caved in to pressure and agreed to re-open its investigation into allegations that the Labour leader flouted lockdown laws.
The force had initially concluded that no offence had occurred at the infamous ‘beer and curry’ event at Durham Miners Hall in April last year when stringent rules over social gathering were in place.
And even as the Mail broke daily details which questioned the veracity of accounts given to the police, it remained silent.
Now, in a dramatic intervention that piles the pressure on Sir Keir, the police said that ‘significant new information’ had come to light and that officers were conducting a fresh inquiry into potential breaches of Covid-19 regulations.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer makes a statement outside Labour Party headquarters in London, following the announcement that he is to be investigated by police amid allegations he broke lockdown rules last year
In recent days this newspaper has led the way with a string of exclusive stories exposing the hypocrisy of both Sir Keir and the Labour hierarchy for their attacks on Boris Johnson over gatherings at No 10 during lockdown.
The Labour leader was filmed swigging beer from a bottle with officials at a time when indoor socialising was banned, except within a household or support bubble. But he insisted he had not broken the rules, a claim that ever since has looked increasingly flimsy.
The story began on April 30 last year at the end of a week of campaigning which saw Sir Keir give a speech to an online party rally. The event ended around 9.20pm and 40 minutes later he was filmed by a passer-by drinking beer. The video was handed to police but no action was taken.
Our investigation took a dramatic turn almost a year later to the day that Starmer and other party officials had met in the Miners Hall, with a front page revelation on the 29th of last month that Labour had lied about the presence of deputy leader Angela Rayner.
We first asked the party on January 14 whether Mrs Rayner was at the notorious event. This is what they told us then: ‘Goodness me, with all that’s going on. It’s an old story! Angela wasn’t there. It was Mary Foy’s office.’ (Mrs Foy, the local Labour MP, and other Labour cronies were there.)
Sir Keir himself said: ‘We were working in the office. We stopped for something to eat and then we carried on working. No party, no breach of the rules and absolutely no comparison with the Prime Minister.’
The Labour leader was filmed swigging beer from a bottle with officials at a time when indoor socialising was banned, except within a household or support bubble
But rumours about Mrs Rayner’s presence at the meeting persisted.
She had been pictured in Durham at an election event with Sir Keir early on the morning following the curry night. And a woman whose head can be seen at the event from behind in the video of Sir Keir and his beer has hair which bears a remarkable resemblance to Mrs Rayner’s striking red locks.
Confronted with our video evidence, the party admitted it had lied to us back in January. ‘Angela was present,’ a spokesman said, but party sources claimed their previous denials had been ‘an honest mistake’.
So far so murky. Labour refused to answer a string of further questions about the event.
But last Saturday, April 30, following our revelation about Mrs Rayner’s presence, pressure started to grow on Durham police for a new investigation.
The Tory MP for North West Durham, Richard Holden, wrote to the force arguing that the ‘incontrovertible’ evidence of Mrs Rayner’s presence showed Labour had ‘lied’ about events on the night in question.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson paints during a drawing session with children as part of a visit to the Field End Infant school, in South Ruislip
We also disclosed that Sir Keir had campaigned for the election of local crime tsar, Joy Allen, whose force had refused to fine him over Beergate. Asked what role Mrs Allen or her office played in the police decision to take no action against Sir Keir, her spokesman said: ‘None at all. We were just informed. It was an operational matter for the force.’
By last Sunday, Labour’s claims that nothing untoward had happened in Durham were spectacularly unravelling. Sir Keir now told Sky News that the party had made a false claim about Mrs Rayner. ‘It is a genuine mistake and I take responsibility for it,’ he said.
Asked about her presence when he was filmed drinking beer from a bottle, he replied: ‘Yes. We were in the office, we were working, we paused for something to eat, there was no party, no rules were broken and that is the long and short of it.’
But if he hoped his admission would draw a line under the matter he was sadly mistaken.
The 43-second video that showed Sir Keir drinking also showed figures eating what appeared to be naan bread from plates.
And last Monday, after speaking to staff at The Capital Indian Restaurant, not far from the Miners Hall, the Mail revealed that a takeaway had been delivered to the bash Sir Keir had enjoyed with Labour activists. The delivery driver we spoke to said he had dropped off a ‘big’ order of food for up to 30 people for this so-called ‘work’ meeting. He claimed the order had been four bags of curries, rice and naan bread.
Our investigation took a dramatic turn almost a year later to the day that Starmer and other party officials had met in the Miners Hall, with a front page revelation on the 29th of last month that Labour had lied about the presence of deputy leader Angela Rayner
Back in January Sir Keir had implied there were only six or seven people present but the driver told us: ‘There were a few people – about 30 or so.’
However, after saying he needed to speak to a manager, the employee’s account later changed. Now apparently suffering from a bout of amnesia he claimed he had been mistaken in his earlier comments and insisted he had never been to the Miners Hall.
By Thursday Sir Keir was getting rattled. He did not challenge our account that up to 30 people had actually been present. Of the takeaway order, he now said: ‘This was brought in and at various points people went into the kitchen, got a plate, had some food to eat and got on with their work.’
At the time, lockdown laws allowed staff to meet indoors if doing so was ‘reasonably necessary for work’. However, official guidance on buffet-style serving was clear. It stated: ‘There should not be any sharing of food and drink by staff who do not share a household. Minimise self-serving options for food and drink.
‘As far as possible, food served and/or displayed should be individually wrapped to minimise contact and avoid spread of infection.’
Having claimed his curry – and beer – were consumed during a break from work, Sir Keir struggled to say what duties he carried out after he was filmed holding his bottle at 10.04pm.
The Mail, meanwhile, revealed the contents of Mr Holden’s letter to police. It noted that bystanders were coming forward who had not been interviewed by officers when police initially dismissed the case. He also urged the force to interview Sir Keir’s Scotland Yard bodyguards who were understood to be present at the event.
London mayor Sadiq Khan admitted there was ‘equivalence’ between Sir Keir’s Friday night curry and the ‘birthday party’ at No 10 which saw Boris Johnson fined for breaking lockdown rules
Yesterday the pressure was growing once again. Sir Keir claimed that the curry was consumed during a break from work, and critics have now demanded that he release the video-clips he says he recorded.
He says these were pieces to camera for social media – but just one Facebook clip appears to have been recorded that day – and it was shot during daylight hours.
‘Shifty Starmer’s account of what happened at his beer and curry night just don’t add up,’ MP Mark Jenkinson said.
It hardly mattered, with the evidence stacking up, even Labour supporters were beginning to question the Keir Starmer narrative.
London mayor Sadiq Khan admitted there was ‘equivalence’ between Sir Keir’s Friday night curry and the ‘birthday party’ at No 10 which saw Boris Johnson fined for breaking lockdown rules.
With the police now properly investigating – thanks to the Daily Mail’s persistence – will this grubby business be finally resolved?
TOM HARRIS: Keir Starmer now faces being forced to drink the same lethal medicine he so enthusiastically prescribed for Boris Johnson
Keir Starmer has suffered not one blow to his chances of becoming prime minister, but two. While his lieutenants tried to spin a decidedly unexceptional set of local election results into a success story yesterday, police in Durham finally announced they would, after all, re-open their investigation into allegations that the Labour leader broke Covid rules last April.
And it’s a development that could spell his downfall.
All in all, this week’s election results, despite some impressive gains in London, were mediocre for Labour, with a projected five-percentage-point lead in the popular vote over Boris Johnson’s Conservatives.
The announcement by Durham police will surely devastate any upside from the gains. Starmer is the man, remember, who – not too long ago – demanded Boris Johnson’s resignation even before he was issued with a fine for breaking Covid laws.
Yet now Sir Keir, Leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition – as well as a QC and former director of public prosecutions – is to be investigated by the police himself, questioned over an incident he has been less than forthcoming about.
Keir Starmer has suffered not one blow to his chances of becoming prime minister, but two
The irony is shattering. It was Starmer who demanded more, tougher and longer Covid restrictions at every opportunity during the pandemic. It was Starmer who presented himself as the saintly alternative to Johnson. Yet it was also Starmer who, even as he threw wild accusations across the Commons chamber, appears to have known that he had enjoyed his own late-night drinks party with colleagues.
At first Labour denied that Starmer’s deputy, Angela Rayner, was also present, only conceding the point when photographic evidence was unearthed by this newspaper.
Then there were reports that the takeaway curry on the night in question could have fed up to 30 people, rather than the half a dozen or so Labour had originally suggested were there.
On top of this, a week before the local elections, Starmer himself bizarrely and repeatedly refused to confirm whether the police had contacted him to discuss the allegations. Why obfuscate if they hadn’t been in touch? Why bother dissembling if they had?
All in all, this week’s election results, despite some impressive gains in London, were mediocre for Labour, with a projected five-percentage-point lead in the popular vote over Boris Johnson’s Conservatives
His characteristic refusal to offer a straight answer – and yesterday’s revelation that he will now be investigated by police – will add to voters’ suspicions that Starmer is not the straight-talking politician he claims to be.
As a result, he could soon find himself under siege from both the Left and the moderates in Labour.
He already stands accused by the hard-Left of reneging on Corbynite campaign promises he made when he stood as leader. They will now be out for his blood. And the shadow of his predecessor has long left a question mark over his head for many centrists. Those who didn’t trust Jeremy Corbyn find it difficult to trust a man who tried his utmost to make Corbyn prime minister not once but twice.
Should police now find Starmer was guilty of breaking lockdown rules, his leadership could come to a premature and undignified end if he is forced to drink the lethal medicine he so enthusiastically prescribed for the PM.
Police in Durham finally announced they would, after all, re-open their investigation into allegations that the Labour leader broke Covid rules last April
Yesterday’s news of the investigation – announced only after polls were closed – came as it emerged that while Labour council candidates did superficially well in some areas, they failed to land a knock-out blow against the Conservatives. Even after Partygate, the Owen Paterson debacle and Tory-imposed tax rises, Labour’s ‘triumph’ is anaemic at best.
I have friends who, unlike me, stuck with the party during Corbyn’s leadership and went on to support Starmer’s election as leader.
Now, when the subject is raised, they frown, or roll their eyes in despair, effectively conceding that whatever his qualities, Sir Keir is not likely to be the next Sir Tony Blair. He may, however, be the next Neil Kinnock – a leader who never made it to No 10.
In the 1980s, I joined the Labour Party because I was inspired by Kinnock. I could not understand why voters across the country, in poll after poll, had a lower opinion of his potential as prime minister than Margaret Thatcher.
With the benefit of age, wisdom and hindsight, I now see that his many U-turns – necessary as they were, transforming him from Left-wing firebrand and darling of party conferences to moderate statesman – cost him dearly. The vital work he did in modernising Labour, dragging it kicking and screaming towards electability, came at the expense of his personal reputation.
Boris Johnson and staff pictured with wine in Downing Street garden in May 2020
Today, I detect similar doubts among voters about Starmer as with Kinnock 30 years ago.
There was already that issue of trust. After resigning from the front bench in protest at Corbyn’s leadership in 2016, and voting against him in a confidence vote, Starmer rejoined his shadow cabinet and campaigned to make him PM. Knowing his tolerance of anti-Semitism, which made life impossible for Jewish MPs and supporters; knowing that he supported the dismantling of Nato; yet Starmer still asked the country to put its trust in Corbyn as prime minister.
Then he demanded Johnson’s resignation over Downing Street parties, while failing to come clean about his own.
Voters expected better than this from Starmer. Today they will be disappointed that they didn’t know these latest revelations on Beergate before they cast their votes.
÷ Tom Harris was Labour MP for Glasgow South from 2001 to 2015
Keir Starmer’s leadership is in crisis as he fails to win back the Red Wall – then police launch a probe into his beer and curry night during lockdown
Keir Starmer’s leadership was in crisis last night after police launched an investigation into ‘Beergate’.
Durham Constabulary said they were opening a fresh inquiry into the notorious event when Sir Keir was filmed enjoying a late-night beer with party activists during lockdown.
The move is a humiliation for the Labour leader, who called on Boris Johnson to resign in January after police launched an inquiry into claims of lockdown-busting events in No 10.
Sir Keir was pictured with a bottle of beer with activists during lockdown on April 30, 2021
Durham Constabulary (HQ pictured) finally agreed to reopen its ‘Beergate’ probe yesterday
How Labour called for PM’s head
Sir Keir Starmer, who has repeatedly called for Boris Johnson to resign over Partygate and the Met’s investigation of Downing Street parties, has been left eating his words after Durham police announced it would reinvestigate a bash attended by the Labour leader.
On January 12, Sir Keir told the Commons: ‘[Mr Johnson] has finally been forced to admit what everyone knew – that when the whole country was locked down, he was hosting boozy parties in Downing Street. Is he now going to do the decent thing and resign?’
The day the Metropolitan Police announced it had opened an investigation into Partygate on January 25, Sir Keir was joined in his chorus of condemnation by deputy Angela Rayner, who said: ‘Boris Johnson is a national distraction. Conservative MPs should stop propping him up and he should finally do the decent thing and resign.’
The Labour leader repeated this call the following day, telling the Commons: ‘The ministerial code says that: “Ministers who knowingly mislead Parliament will be expected to offer their resignation”. Does the Prime Minister believe that applies to him? I think the Prime Minister said yes. Therefore, if he misled Parliament, he must resign.’
City of Durham Labour MP Mary Foy, in whose constituency office the bash in question was held, tweeted on April 19: ‘Boris Johnson says he has made changes in Downing Street, so we should move on from Partygate. I won’t move on … until the lawbreaking charlatan resigns. Every day he remains in office is a national disgrace.’
Last night critics were asking whether Sir Keir and Mrs Rayner, both now the subject of a police investigation, would abide by their own high standards.
In a tweet, he said: ‘Honesty and decency matter. He needs to do the decent thing and resign.’ Sir Keir ignored questions yesterday about whether he would adhere to his own standards and quit – insisting only that he had not broken the rules.
But a Cabinet source said Sir Keir had been ‘hoist by his own petard’, adding: ‘Who would have guessed that the holier-than-thou saint would turn out to be a total hypocrite?’
Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries told the Daily Mail: ‘For three months, he attempted to divert the Government’s attention away from important and pressing issues such as the cost of living and the war in Ukraine by continuously calling for the PM to resign for nothing more than being investigated.
‘Do his inappropriate and repeatedly shrill-voiced standards apply to himself as well?’
One Labour backbencher branded Sir Kier’s actions in Durham ‘indefensible’ – telling PoliticsJoe they would refuse media interviews to avoid having to defend the party’s embattled leader.
A political adviser to Sir Keir added: ‘It’s a relief Durham police aren’t handing out retrospective fines. Because we would probably get one.’
Yesterday’s police intervention follows a string of revelations by the Mail about what really happened when Sir Keir gathered with MPs and officials in Durham Miners Hall on the night of April 30 last year.
Durham Constabulary said last night the force had received ‘significant new information’. The body blow for the Labour leader came as:
- Sir Keir’s dream of an electoral breakthrough fell flat as Labour failed to make significant gains in the crucial Red Wall councils
- Mr Johnson pledged a new focus on the cost of living after the Tories lost almost 400 seats on a ‘tough’ night for the Government
- The Lib Dems struck fear into southern Tories by claiming a string of victories
- Durham police faced questions about why they delayed their bombshell announcement until after the elections
- Disgraced former Labour mayor Lutfur Rahman was re-elected as mayor of Tower Hamlets after a five-year elections ban over vote-rigging
- Labour tightened its grip on the capital, seizing flagship Tory councils in Wandsworth, Westminster and Barnet
Corbyn twists the knife
Former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn appeared to twist the knife last night as he described the police investigation into Sir Keir Starmer as a ‘very serious development’.
Mr Corbyn, who has been denied the Labour whip after being suspended in 2020, refused to say if Sir Keir should resign.
He told LBC: ‘I don’t want to comment on what the outcome of (the investigation) would be, but obviously, it’s serious.’
Last week this newspaper revealed that, despite denials stretching back three months, Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner was also present at the drinks in the Miners Hall.
Mrs Rayner, who also called for the PM to quit following the launch of the Partygate probe, is now likely to face questions from the police and face pressure to resign. The police initially rejected calls to investigate after reviewing a 43-second video filmed by a passer-by.
But in a statement yesterday, the force said: ‘Following the receipt of significant new information over recent days, Durham Constabulary… can confirm that an investigation into potential breaches of Covid-19 regulations relating to this gathering is now being conducted.’
Labour said Sir Keir, Mrs Rayner and others present would co-operate with detectives. In a brief statement to reporters, a shell-shocked Sir Keir said: ‘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.’
Privately, Labour insiders acknowledged that Sir Keir might have to resign if he is fined, having repeatedly called for the PM and Rishi Sunak to quit when they were fined £50 over a brief so-called ‘birthday party’ in the Cabinet room.
One Labour MP said the decision by Sir Keir and Mrs Rayner to push so hard for the PM to quit had ‘come back to bite them’.
Tory MP Richard Holden, who led calls for police to reopen their investigation, declined to call explicitly for the Labour leader to quit, but said: ‘Keir Starmer should hold himself to the same moral standards he has talked about. It should be his words that hang him.’
Fellow Tory Graham Stuart said: ‘It’s the po-faced, self-regarding, smug naked hypocrisy of Starmer on Partygate that makes his comeuppance so satisfying.’
Durham Constabulary cites ‘significant new information’ as it reopens its investigation into ‘Beergate’ after days of Mail coverage and pressure from Tory MPs
By Jason Groves and Richard Marsden
Durham Constabulary finally announced it would reopen its investigation into ‘Beergate’ yesterday following days of revelations in the Daily Mail and pressure from Tory MPs.
Citing ‘significant new information’, the force yesterday said it had reviewed its initial decision to take no further action and would now launch a probe which could see the likes of Sir Keir Starmer and his deputy, Angela Rayner, forced to answer questions.
The Beergate event at Durham Miners Hall on April 30 last year was placed into the spotlight in January when a now-infamous image of Sir Keir drinking beer with Labour colleagues was published on the front page of the Mail after he criticised alleged lockdown-breaking parties in No 10.
What the police will probe
Was it ‘necessary for work’?
At the time, indoor socialising was banned in England. Indoor meetings during the local elections campaign were exempt if they were ‘reasonably necessary for work’. But the guidance was to ‘not meet with other campaigners indoors’ and to keep interactions to a minimum.
The ‘£200 curry order’
Labour has refused to say how many people attended the event, but a restaurant reportedly delivered £200 of curry, with a source suggesting it was shared by 20-30 people. Sir Keir said it was a buffet-style meal – but employers were advised that staff from different households should not share food and drink.
Did work continue after dinner?
Sir Keir has said he went back to work after the meal, which took place after 10pm on a Friday. But Labour has yet to produce evidence of any work done later by attendees. Sir Keir has cited an online event and video clips. But these appear to have been carried out earlier.
Labour’s changing story
Labour spent months denying deputy leader Angela Rayner was present, telling the Daily Mail in January that she was not there. The party only admitted she was present last week when faced with video evidence. Sir Keir has also changed his story about whether the group worked throughout the meal or took a break.
Was there any alternative?
Sir Keir said ‘all restaurants and pubs were closed so takeaways were really the only way you could eat’. But the hotel he was staying at served food outdoors until 9pm and offered room service. Local media reports suggest 13 nearby outlets were serving food outdoors.
It is understood detectives have changed their position in the light of Mail investigations. And this newspaper can reveal the force confirmed its decision to reopen an investigation a day after receiving a formal complaint from a Durham county councillor who lost his mother in the pandemic.
Paul Sexton, who sits as an independent, asked it to reconsider as ‘people in positions of power think they are above the law’.
They are to focus on the revelations that there were many more people than Labour had originally suggested and that the takeaway meal ran to a hefty £200.
There were also misleading claims that no other restaurants in the area were open at the time.
An image of what may have been Sir Keir’s official car led to suggestions that police protection officers may have witnessed the events.
Back in January, the Labour leader dismissed allegations of hypocrisy and said the event bore ‘no comparison’ with gatherings attended in Whitehall during lockdown by Boris Johnson.
Sir Keir said he and colleagues had stopped for something to eat and carried on working which was ‘perfectly normal’ under rules at the time which banned indoor socialising unless for work.
The row was reignited last month when Conservative MP for North West Durham Richard Holden wrote to Jo Farrell, the chief constable of Durham Constabulary, expressing concern that the Met Police had issued a fine to the Prime Minister over Partygate but officers in Durham had concluded no further action was warranted against Sir Keir.
On April 27, Durham’s deputy chief constable Ciaron Irvine said he would ‘make inquiries with the investigation team’.
On April 28, the Mail revealed that a 43-second video of Sir Keir and others drinking at the constituency office of City of Durham MP Mary Foy showed a number of people eating with the leader who was drinking from a bottle of San Miguel. The casual nature of the event appeared to contradict claims of a ‘work meeting’.
It can now be revealed that the room in which Sir Keir and six others were filmed chatting is a small kitchen where social distancing would have been impossible.
The following day, the Mail produced bombshell evidence showing that Labour deputy leader Mrs Rayner was also at the event – despite previous denials.
Labour went on the defensive, insisting the denials had been an ‘honest mistake’ but the slip-up prompted widespread coverage across the BBC and Sky as well as left-leaning publications including The Independent.
On May 2, further questions were raised over Labour’s account of the evening after a takeaway delivery driver said he had delivered a ‘big order’ to about ‘30 or so people’. Reports suggested attendees had ordered £200-worth of food.
In a series of broadcast interviews, Sir Keir failed to deal with questions over Beergate – including refusing to answer three times if police had been in touch since the incident resurfaced. He later said they had not. As further allegations emerged, Durham Constabulary repeated its earlier stance that it did not believe an offence had occurred but it said it was examining the subject.
Labour MPs continued to support Sir Keir yesterday.
Shadow minister Emily Thornberry claimed Durham police reopened their investigation because of pressure from ‘Conservative-supporting newspapers’ and Tory MPs. Durham Constabulary yesterday declined to comment on the nature of the new information. The investigation is likely to see Sir Keir questioned – probably in the form of questionnaires.
If he or Mrs Rayner are found to have breached the Coronavirus Act 2020, they could be issued with a Fixed Penalty Notice. A Labour Party spokesman said: ‘We’re obviously happy to answer any questions there are and we remain clear that no rules were broken.’