UK opposition leader Starmer cleared of lockdown breach

A video emerged of Keir Starmer drinking beer and eating a takeaway meal inside a campaign office with party colleagues. PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON (AFP) - Britain's opposition Labour party leader Keir Starmer and his deputy Angela Rayner were on Friday (July 8) cleared by police of breaking lockdown rules at a campaign gathering.

"Durham Constabulary will not be issuing any fixed penalty notices (fines) in respect of the gathering and no further action will be taken," the force said in a statement.

Both politicians had said they would quit if they were fined over the event in Durham, north-east England, in April last year. The police investigation was launched after a video emerged of Mr Starmer drinking beer and eating a takeaway meal inside a campaign office with party colleagues.

"It has been concluded that there is no case to answer for a contravention of the regulations, due to the application of an exception, namely reasonably necessary work," said police.

Mr Starmer, a lawyer and former chief prosecutor for England and Wales, said on Friday that "I've always said no rules were broken when I was in Durham".

"The police have completed their investigation and agreed: There is no case to answer," he added. "For me, this was always a matter of principle. Honesty and integrity matter. You will always get that from me."

Ms Rayner said similar, and that the difference between their stance and "the behaviour of this disgraced prime minister (Boris Johnson) couldn't be clearer".

The police force looked into the event at the time but concluded "no offence had been established". But it had said in May that "following the receipt of significant new information over recent days... we can confirm that an investigation into potential breaches of Covid-19 regulations relating to this gathering is now being conducted".

Mr Johnson and his finance minister at the time Mr Rishi Sunak both received fines for attending an impromptu gathering in Mr Johnson's office to celebrate his birthday in 2020.

Mr Johnson's fine - the first for a British prime minister while still in office - piled pressure on him and stoked public anger after a steady stream of revelations about breaches in Downing Street.

He initially denied parties took place, then accepted there were gatherings but claimed they were within the strict social distancing rules he set the public, leading to claims he misled Parliament.

Mr Starmer said he was recording Zoom videos and take a break for food, adding that no restaurants or pubs were open at the time of the alleged offence, and that his hotel did not serve food.

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