Sir Keir Starmer said he is “confident” that he did not breach lockdown rules by having a beer and curry at a campaign event.
The Labor leader spoke after Durham Constabulary confirmed it was investigating claims an evening event attended by the Labor leader with other senior party figures and activists last year might have broken pandemic social distancing regulations.
But Sir Keir said: “As I have explained a number of times, I was working in the office, we stopped for something to eat.
“There was no party, no breach of rules, I am confident of that.”
Speaking during a visit to Scotland, the Labor leader added: “The police have obviously got to do their job but meanwhile I am here in Scotland because we have had a fantastic set of results.”
He also said that while he has called for Prime Minster Boris Johnson to quit after he was fined for attending a party at Westminster during lockdown, he would not be resigning.
Instead he said he was focused on the next general election after his party “did really well” in the local elections.
Asked if he would be the person leading the party into the next Westminster election campaign, Sir Keir said: “I will be taking them into that general election, I am really pleased.”
His comments came after he was accused of hypocrisy by Tories, with cabinet minister Nadhim Zahawi questioning why Sir Keir was not resigning after the Labor leader had called for Boris Johnson to quit while under investigation over the No 10 partygate row.
Labor allies of Sir Keir said he would be cleared by police and there was a sharp contrast between him and the Prime Minister.
Durham Police said they had reversed an earlier decision on the case that no offense had been committed, after receiving “significant new information”.
Police have not said what sparked the probe but The Times reported a “key factor” was confirmation that deputy leader Angela Rayner attended the evening. Labor had previously denied she had been present.
The Daily Telegraph said the so-called “beergate” investigation will take up to six weeks, with those suspected of having breached lockdown rules due to be sent questionnaires.
Sir Keir, a former director of public prosecutions, said on Friday in London – having returned from a victory lap around the country following Labour’s local election successes – that he did not believe the event had breached the rules.
This message was repeated by allies on Saturday, with shadow health secretary Wes Streeting telling the BBC that he would not “entertain” the prospect of Sir Keir resigning over alleged lockdown rule-breaking last April.
“I have absolute faith and confidence that Keir Starmer did the right thing all the way along,” he said.
“He’s maintained that all the way along. He’s someone who practices what he preaches, and as I say the police have looked at this before and found no case to answer.
“We’re confident that’ll be the case this time.
“I think the contrast between Keir Starmer and Boris Johnson will be even sharper because I do think it’s ridiculous, actually, after everything that we’ve seen, Boris Johnson is still there and Conservative MPs haven’t removed Boris Johnson.”
Sir Keir had called for Mr Johnson to resign because he was under investigation by Scotland Yard and, asked why the Labor leader was not following his own standard, Mr Streeting said: “Police looked at this before, they found no case to answer, no action was taken.
“We expect that to be the outcome now.”
Asked whether Sir Keir would resign if he had broken the law, shadow Welsh secretary Jo Stevens told Times Radio: “I think if we get to that situation, which I think is extremely unlikely on the basis that Durham Police have already investigated this complaint and found that no rules have been broken, I’m sure Keir will make a statement at that point.
“I think that this is a non-story, a kind of smear that’s been going on to time with the local elections to try and hold up a Tory party that is so badly damaged by the behavior of the prime minister.”
Former shadow home secretary Diane Abbott said Sir Keir should “consider his position” if he is fined.
“I think if he actually gets a fixed-penalty notice he really has to consider his position,” she told LBC.
“I don’t think he will, I think this is a lot of hype built up by the Tory press, but if he were to get a fixed penalty notice he would have to consider his position.”
Education Secretary Mr Zahawi told Times Radio: “We’ve got to let the police carry out their investigation and that’s only right and responsible.
“I do think, though, that the public will be uncomfortable with the hypocrisy. I think he’s used one in three of his PMQs from him to talk about parties instead of focusing on the cost of living.
“He has tweeted himself saying that if you’re under investigation, a criminal investigation, then you should resign.”
The police faced mounting pressure in the final weeks of the local campaign to re-examine election allegations of wrongdoing by the opposition leader.
This came after footage emerged of Sir Keir drinking a beer at a constituency office in Durham in April 2021 while campaigning for the Hartlepool by-election.
At the time of the gathering, non-essential retail and outdoor venues including pub gardens were open but social distancing rules, which included a ban on indoor mixing between households, remained in place.
Sir Keir previously said no restaurants or pubs were open at the time of the alleged offense and the hotel he and his colleagues were staying in did not serve food, so “if you didn’t get a takeaway then our team wasn’t eating that evening”.
In January, Sir Keir said the Prime Minister “needs to do the decent thing and resign” after he became embroiled in lockdown breach allegations.
Ms Rayner also wrote on Twitter: “Boris Johnson’s Downing Street is under police investigation, how on Earth can he think he can stay on as Prime Minister?”
Mr Johnson, his wife Carrie Johnson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak are among those to have already been fined for breaking Covid laws.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.