UK Labor leader agrees to step down if police find out he broke Covid rules

LONDON – The bloc-breaking party scandal that ensnared British Prime Minister Boris Johnson took a new turn on Monday when his rival, opposition leader Keir Starmer, vowed to step down if police decide he too has broken coronavirus laws.

The statement followed days of speculation that Mr. Starmer had violated the country’s strict Covid-19 regulations when he was pictured drinking a beer while eating Indian take-out food during an election campaign meeting in the northern city of Durham. Last year.

And while Mr. Starmer’s promise represents a surprising bet, it also increases the pressure on Mr. Johnson, who has already been fined for attending a birthday party on Downing Street but refused to step down.

“I am absolutely clear that no laws have been violated, they have been followed at all times,” said Starmer, who is a former chief prosecutor. “But if the police decided to issue me a fixed penalty, obviously I would do the right thing and resign,” he added, referring to the mechanism used by the police to fine those who are believed to have violated the law.

In recent days, the drama surrounding Starmer, dubbed a “beergate” by the British media, has inflicted a significant setback on the opposition leader, overshadowing the progress of his opposition Labor party in the local elections of the United Kingdom. last week. Labor has an advantage over Johnson’s conservatives in opinion polls, and should Starmer have a reasonable chance of becoming the country’s next prime minister if his inclination towards his party were to be replicated at the next general election.

Mr. Starmer insists he didn’t break the rules, and this was also the official verdict of an initial police investigation. But on Friday, following a series of media reports and receiving a new complaint, Durham police said they would reopen their investigation, citing new evidence.

Labor has since been on the defensive, despite its good performance in local elections, as it sought to dismiss the fury as libel. But Mr. Starmer has invited Mr. Johnson to step down for the holidays to break the blockade on Downing Street.

In addition to calling for Johnson’s resignation, Starmer also said that Rishi Sunak, the chancellor of the exchequer, is expected to resign after being fined by the police for his brief attendance at a prime minister’s birthday celebration in Downing Street.

Conservative-backed newspapers have accused Starmer of hypocrisy and seems to have calculated that, if the police fined him, his position would still be untenable.

It is still unclear whether Mr. Starmer’s actions in Durham broke the law.

Adam Wagner, a lawyer and expert on coronavirus rules, wrote on Twitter that he thought it “absurd” that the police could criminally penalize the opposition leader for meeting, for an hour, with a local legislator “and having a late dinner. in the evening, days before the elections in that area “.

Labor argues that the event took place at a time when many restaurants were closed but business meetings and political campaigns were allowed and that Mr. Starmer and his collaborators had no alternative but to order a take-away meal. The party’s history changed in one respect, however, when it admitted that its deputy leader, Angela Rayner, was also present at the meeting, contradicting previous denials.

The police investigation into several allegations of law-breaking in Downing Street is still ongoing. And once completed, the government agrees to publish an internal report, a preliminary version of which has been critical enough to prompt police investigations.

There are signs that some of the prime minister’s allies are becoming worried that the “beergate” saga may have gotten out of control.

Asked Sunday whether Mr. Starmer should resign if found, a senior cabinet minister, Jacob Rees-Mogg, said he shouldn’t. “I think he should pay a fine and then talk about issues of great importance to the nation,” he told Channel 4.