Labour’s Lisa Nandy has defended party leader Sir Keir Starmer over claims he broke coronavirus lockdown rules, saying: “I’m absolutely confident that he hasn’t broken the law.”
Shadow secretary of state for levelling up, housing and communities Ms Nandy said her boss “is Mr Rules, he does not break the rules” as she accused the Conservatives of an “absolutely desperate attempt to sling mud”.
Her comments came as Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab accused Sir Keir of “complete hypocrisy” over the Durham beer-and-curry event being investigated by police for a possible breach of coronavirus lockdown laws.
Asked if Sir Keir should quit, Mr Raab told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge On Sunday: “It’s the rank double standards that drive people crazy.
“He needs to fess up and answer all of the holes in the account that he gave for that beer-and-curry event in Durham.”
He added: “Keir Starmer looks like, I’m afraid, someone who is engaged in complete hypocrisy, complete double standards and I don’t think he is going to get past that until he gives a proper account of what happened in Durham.”
Brexit Opportunities Minister Jacob Rees-Mogg suggested there was no need for Sir Keir to resign if he was fined, but questioned his judgment for focusing so much on the “second tier issue” of partygate.
“The difficulty for Sir Keir is he said – before any result of any investigation – that the Prime Minister should resign,” Mr Rees-Mogg told Channel 4’s Andrew Neil Show.
“Which sets a rather high standard and I think the issue for him is one of judgment.”
Asked if Sir Keir should quit if he was found to have broken the law, Mr Rees-Mogg said: “I think he should pay a fine and then talk about the issues of great importance to the nation.”
Ms Nandy told Sky News: “He went on a work visit, he stopped to eat at various times during the day as was factored into the work visit and then he finished the work visit and he went back to his hotel.
“I think this, the last few weeks we’ve seen an absolutely desperate attempt to sling mud at the Labour leader and various members of the Labour Party and 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, he denied that he was there, he came clean and he laughed about it.
“Keir Starmer went on a work visit and had a break to eat, the idea that this is the same sort of thing is just a sign of a Government that’s tired, is desperate and is completely out of ideas that spends more time slinging mud at the Labour Party than working out how they’re going to deal with pensioners who are now struggling so much to heat their homes that they’re having to get on buses in order to avoid the cold.”
Asked if it was found Sir Keir broke the law, should he resign, she told Sky News: “Look, I’m not going to get into that, because I’m absolutely confident that he hasn’t broken the law.”
She added: “Because it lends legitimacy to something that is completely and utterly absurd, that is a desperate attempt by the Government to deflect from the fact that we’ve got the highest inflation rate in a generation and people are struggling to survive.
“I’m not going to entertain it because 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’s self isolated six times during the pandemic, I don’t know a single other person who did that.
“He is Mr Rules, he does not break the rules, he was the director of public prosecutions, not somebody who goes around tearing up rules when it suits him, in stark contrast to the Prime Minister.
“I have to say I think this desperate attempt to sling mud will fall flat, but I think we’ll see more of this as we get closer to a general election.”
Asked if she would stand again to become Labour leader if a vacancy arose, she told Sky News: “This country cannot afford more of the Conservatives and there is absolutely no question in my mind that we can’t muck around with internal debates in the Labour Party about who’s up and who’s down, we’ve got a leader who even in these last few days with huge amounts of mud being slung at him has come out of this showing the same honesty and character and grit that he’s shown all the way through.”
But Lib Dem leader Sir Ed Davey said it will be difficult for Sir Keir to continue as leader if he is fined, telling BBC One’s Sunday Morning “no politician is above the law”.
He added: “So if any politician, be it Keir Starmer, Boris Johnson, if they get a fixed-penalty notice after a police investigation, it’s extremely difficult for them to continue.”
It came as a leaked memo indicated the takeaway in Durham had been planned as part of his itinerary for the day of campaigning in April 2021 and, no further work was scheduled after the dinner.
Allies of Sir Keir insisted that the curry was consumed between work events, meaning it was within the rules despite the ban on indoor socialising.
Sir Keir had been due to face media questions at an event organised by the Institute for Government on Monday, but it was cancelled on Sunday, with the organisers saying they hoped to rearrange it at a later date.