Keir Starmer and Angela Rayner to resign if fined over Beergate claims – UK politics as it happened
Emily Thornberry, the shadow attorney general, is on BBC News. She has just been asked what Keir Starmer would do if Durham police were to say he probably broke the rules, but not fine him (as they did with Dominic Cummings). Starmer was slightly evasive when asked about this at his mini press conference. (See 4.20pm.) Thornberry said the police would not conclude Starmer broke the rules. But then she also said that, in this case, she did not think a Cummings-type outcome was likely. She said Durham police (reportedly) have six officers working on this case. That did not apply in the case of Cummings, she said. She implied that if they concluded Starmer had broken the law, they would have to issue a fine.
Three reasons why Starmer's pledge to resign if fined may impress the electorate Keir Starmer is often portrayed as a dull politician. But as Labour leader he has produced at least two moments of supreme political drama: first, suspending Jeremy Corbyn (when did a major party leader last boot out a predecessor?), and today promising to resign if fined over Beergate. No one makes a commitment of this kind from a position of strength, and the merits of Starmer’s move are being fiercely debated. But the manner in which he announced it was polished, and for three reasons many people are likely to be impressed. First, it was in stark contrast to anything Boris Johnson would, or could, do. Starmer was able to say he stood for “honour and integrity” and it sounded credible. From Johnson, the same sentence would sound more like the punchline for a gag. Second, Starmer sounded prime ministerial. Voters may elect celebrity/entertainment politicians, but some at least may hark back to the notion of having a leader with a bit more old-fashioned rectitude. Third, and above all, it was ballsy. At one point during Watergate Ben Bradlee, the Washington Post editor, reputedly told his team “our cocks are on the chopping block”. Well, Starmer’s put his on the chopping block too. It may not be wise, but it certainly is brave. This announcement also puts huge pressure on Durham police, who now find themselves in a position where they can decide the fate of the leader of the opposition. This may make them think twice about issuing a fine (assuming they ever get to the point where they might do so – it still seems much more likely that they will decide that this event did not reach the threshold for judging the law was broken). But it is also possible that the police could view this as an attempt to bounce them into a pro-Labour ruling, and that they will pursue the case with more vigour as a result. Here are the main points.
• Starmer confirmed that he will resign if fined by Durham police for breaching lockdown rules. He said: I am absolutely clear that no laws were broken. They were followed at all times. I simply had something to eat whilst 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.
• But he refused to commit to resigning if Durham police say he broke lockdown rules but do not issue a fine. (See 4.20pm.) This is not a far-fetched hypothetical, because this is what Durham police did in relation to Dominic Cummings. (See 3.16pm.)
• He stressed that he was saying this because it was a matter of honour for him. Politicians who make the law should respect the law, he said. Highlighting a contrast with Boris Johnson, he condemned “this cynical belief that all politicians are the same” and said he wanted to show it was wrong. He said: This is a matter of principle and honour for me. It’s about who I am and what I stand for. And I stand for honour and integrity, and the belief that politics is a force for good, and we shouldn’t all be dragged out by this cynical belief that all politicians are the same. And I’m here to make it clear that I am not the same. We’ve seen 50 fines in Downing Street, we’ve seen a prime minister who won’t step down. We are not all the same. I am different. And I’ve set out to date how I’m different.
• He claimed that even his accusers (some Tory MPs and newspapers) probably did not believe he was someone who casually broke the rules. (See 4.08pm.)
• He restated his belief that no laws were broken at the Durham event. He said: I am absolutely clear that no laws were broken. They were followed at all times. I simply had something to eat whilst working late in the evening, as any politician would do days before an election. Sir Keir Starmer making his statement with an audience of three TV journalists: (left to right) Ben Wright, Libby Wiener and Beth Rigby. Photograph: Yui Mok/PA
Full text of Starmer's statement offering to resign if fined for breaching lockdown rules Here is the full text of Keir Starmer’s opening statement. Ever since the first Covid lockdown I have always followed the rules. People were left desperately lonely. They were separated from family and friends. Tragically, many were unable to see dying loved ones. This was a collective sacrifice. People were entitled to expect that politicians would follow the same rules as everyone else. When my mother-in-law passed away suddenly just before the first lockdown, my wife and I were unable to provide her father the support we wanted afterwards because we followed the rules. Barely a day has passed where we haven’t agonised over that decision. But we did it, because we followed the rules. We all found following those rules frustrating at times, I’m no exception to that. I had to isolate six times during Covid, pulling me away from my work and the things I love. But I did it, because we followed the rules. 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, so the public to believe all politicians are the same. But I am here to say they are 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 whilst 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. This matters. It matters because the British public deserve politicians who think the rules apply to them. They deserve politicians who hold themselves to the highest standards, and they deserve politicians who put the country first rather than themselves. They will always get that from me.
Rayner also says she will resign if fined over Beergate Angela Rayner, who was also at the Durham event, has also said she will resign if fined. In a statement she said: I’ve always been clear that I was at the event in Durham working in my capacity as deputy leaader and that no rules were broken. Eating during a long day’s work was not against the rules. We have a prime minister who has been found to have broken the rules, lied about it and then been fined. If I were issued with a fine, I would do the decent thing and step down.
Starmer won't commit to resigning if Durham police say he broke rules but don't fine him The final question is perhaps the most important one. Q: What will you do if Durham police do not issue a fine, but if they say you broke the rules anyway The penalty for a Covid breach is a fixed penalty. And I’ve set out what the position is in relation to that. Thank you very much. That implies that he wouldn’t. He seems to be arguing that if the penalty for a breach of the rules is a fine, then if he does not get a fine, he has not broken the rules. And that’s it. The mini press conference is over.
Q: Do you accept you jumped the gun when you said the PM should resign when he was being investigated? Starmer says the PM has not resigned, even though more than 50 fines have been issued. I’m setting out my position in relation to the events of the last few days. The prime minister has chosen not to resign, notwithstanding that, not only has he broken the law that he made, but 50 fines being imposed in relation to the workplace that he is responsible for. That is his choice. But it’s very important that the public don’t think that all politicians are the same and that is why I have set out my position in terms of honour and integrity. Q: But he had not been fined when you said he should resign? Starmer says the PM wants people to think politicians are all the same. They are not. He’s been found guilty, he’s been found to be in breach of the law. I think over 50 fines now in relation to Downing Street, and the prime minister has not stepped down. He and others in his party want the public to believe that we’re all the same, that we’ll all act in that way. I’m here to make clear that is not the case.
Q: How angry and embarrassed are you about this? Starmer says no rules were broken. But if he gets a fine, he will step down. Q: Do you think people in the Labour party are trying to undermine you? Starmer says he believes in integrity. This is my decision about what is the right thing to do in these circumstances. No rules were broken, I have said that with great clarity. But this is about me. It is about what I believe in in politics. It is about integrity. I believe in integrity, and integrity requires me to take the course of action I have set out here, if in the event, I get a fixed-penalty notice.
Starmer says if he is fined by police 'I would of course do the right thing and step down' 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. This matters. It matters because the British public deserve politicians who think the rules apply to them. They deserve politicians who hold themselves to the highest standards. And they deserve politicians who put the country first rather than themselves. They will always get that from me.
Starmer says he thinks even his accusers do not think he would casually break Covid rules Keir Starmer says the British people have made heart-wrenchin sacrifices during Covid. People were entitled to expect that politicians would follow the same rules as everyone else, he says. He says everyone found the rules frustating. He did too. He had to isolate six times. The idea that he would then casually break those rules is wrong – and frankly I don’t believe those accusing me believe it themselves. They are just feeding cynicism, he says. But he says he believes in honour. Politicians who feed cynicism are undermining democracy and our politics.
If Durham police were to fine Keir Starmer for a breach of lockdown rules, then the case for his resignation would be clear, because he said Boris Johnson should resign when he was fined. Starmer is expected to acknowledge that this afternoon. But, as explained earlier (see 10.39am), in the past Durham police said its general approach was not to issue retrospective fines over lockdown breaches. In the case of Dominic Cumming’s trip to Barnard Castle in 2020, it instead issued a statement saying Cummings probably committed minor breach of the rules. This is what it said: Durham constabulary have examined the circumstances surrounding the journey to Barnard Castle (including ANPR [automatic number plate recognition], witness evidence and a review of Mr Cummings’ press conference on 25 May 2020) and have concluded that there might have been a minor breach of the regulations that would have warranted police intervention. Durham constabulary view this as minor because there was no apparent breach of social distancing. Had a Durham constabulary police officer stopped Mr Cummings driving to or from Barnard Castle, the officer would have spoken to him, and, having established the facts, likely advised Mr Cummings to return to the address in Durham, providing advice on the dangers of travelling during the pandemic crisis. Had this advice been accepted by Mr Cummings, no enforcement action would have been taken. What would Starmer do if Durham police were produce a verdict like this? It would not exonerate him, but should he have to resign for what “might have been a minor breach”? Starmer will be under pressure to clarify this this afternoon.