Labor leader Sir Keir Starmer has pulled out of a keynote speech he is due to give today – as pressure mounts on him over so-called ‘beergate’ claims.
After being a hugely vocal critic of Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the ‘partygate’ Downing Street gatherings during COVID lockdown, Sir Keir is now facing allegations that he too had a beer in a room with colleagues.
Sir Keir has said he was working and stopped to eat when he was filmed having a drink in Durham in April last year – at a time when rules banned household mixing indoors, apart from working.
Durham Police are now investigating the event after a leaked memo obtained by the Mail of Sunday revealed it was in fact pre-planned, in contrast to Labor’s earlier claims it was decided on the night as “nowhere served food”.
And now, the Institute for Government think tank has confirmed Sir Keir has pulled out of its event to discuss the “challenges the country faces”.
Labor did not offer an explanation as to why its party’s leader was no longer attending the gathering, which was timed to precede Tuesday’s Queen’s Speech.
But Monday’s Daily Mail claims Sir Keir is “running scared”.
Education minister Michelle Donelan told Sky News’ Kay Burley on Monday that, if Sir Keir is fined, it was a decision for him over whether he should step down.
But she added: “What my constituents are saying is that this whole thing smacks of sheer hypocrisy given the relentless focus he has placed… He has got to search his soul after making this a top priority for the last few months at the expense of key issues like the rising cost of living etc…”
Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting accused the Touries of “slinging mud” at Sir Keir, saying they had been trying for weeks.
He told Sky News’ Kay Burley: “We’ve had weeks and weeks of the Tories slinging mud at Keir Starmer, hoping that people will just conclude that we’re all the same, there’s no point in changing prime ministers because the next one will be as bad as the current one.
“That’s just not true. I’m not going to get into the game that the Tories are playing with their friends in the media of trying to smear a decent man and pretend that Keir Starmer’s behavior is in any way comparable with Boris Johnson.
“How Conservatives have the barefaced cheek to come out gloating and demanding resignations, and throwing around accusations of hypocrisy at a decent man like Keir Starmer, I don’t know.
“They should get their own house in order, if not for decency and honesty in public life, but for those hundreds of Conservative councillors who lost their seats because their prime minister’s a liar.”
Labor’s Lisa Nandy also told Sophy Ridge on Sunday: “It is frankly absurd of the Tories to claim that this in any way equates to a prime minister who was under investigation by the police for 12 separate gatherings which included karaoke parties, bring your own bottle parties, pub quizzes, suitcases full of wine being smuggled through the back door.
“The prime minister lied about that, he denied that they happened, denied that he was there. He came clean and he laughed about it.
“I’m absolutely confident that no rules were broken, not least because this was investigated last time the Conservatives tried to sling mud at us and Keir Starmer was found to be completely in the clear.
“This is a guy who self-isolated six times during the pandemic.”