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Keir Starmer considers saying he would resign if he were fined for lockdown breach claims, reports say

According to the Times, Keir Starmer is considering announcing that, if he were to be fined for breaking lockdown rules in Durham, he would resign. In their story, Henry Zeffman, Patrick Maguire and Chris Smyth say that an announcement from Starmer is likely today. They say:

Starmer’s allies fear that the next two months could be paralysed by the investigation. By saying he would resign if fined, some believe, Starmer would retain the moral high ground over Johnson, who was fined last month for a birthday gathering in 2020 and could face further fines.

“There’s a clear logic to it,” one supporter said. “It would give him something to say at the despatch box when Johnson raises it.”

Another influential Starmer supporter said: “He feels a huge sense of honour. He is the real deal. But he is less sure of himself on politics and determining what action would be best for him and the party.”

Given that Starmer said Boris Johnson should resign after he was fined for breaching lockdown rules when he attended a surprise birthday party in the cabinet room at No 10, it is hard to see how he could plausibly avoid resigning himself if found to be in the same situation. For that reason an announcement of this kind would make sense.

This is from Newsnight’s Lewis Goodall.

Have heard similar things. Really this is the only play if Starmer knows he would resign if fined anyway. This is the only way he gains political advantage from it if he comes through unscathed- by drawing a counterfactual comparison between himself and the Prime Minister. https://t.co/tTVfsy6r1J

— Lewis Goodall (@lewis_goodall) May 9, 2022

Starmer, of course, says that he did not break lockdown rules, and the evidence against him is far from compelling. Claims that this is equivalent to Partygate are spurious, for reasons explained here.

In interviews this morning Wes Streeting, the shadow health secretary, would not say whether or not he thought Starmer would have to resign if he were fined because he said he thought the prospect so improbable. He said:

Let’s just remember this central fact, which is the police have looked at this before, they found no case to answer. No action was taken. There’s no reason to think this time round will be any different.

What it will show is the stark contrast between Boris Johnson, who was fined, Boris Johnson who lied about there being any events whatsoever under his own roof, Boris Johnson who said all of that despite the fact we now know that officials were wheeling in suitcases full of booze into Number 10.

There is no comparison whatsoever between perfectly legitimate campaigning activity which Keir has never denied, and the actions of Boris Johnson and the people who work for him, which was rule-breaking, lying, completely unacceptable, and the fact that Boris Johnson is still there, I think, is remarkable and depressing.

Patrick Maguire from the Times says the Conservative chief whip, Chris Heaton-Harris, wants a non-aggression pact with Labour over lockdown breaches.

JRM not freelancing here. This implicit call for a truce, I’m told, is the line the chief whip is desperate for Tory MPs to take on Beergate.

They’ve been warned that Starmer’s resignation would cause serious problems for the Tories in the country. https://t.co/pMYnSPENzF

— Patrick Maguire (@patrickkmaguire) May 8, 2022

Should Starmer say he’ll quit if fined?

One Tory offers a convincing case for doing so: with Durham Constabulary’s probe having only just started and the Met’s in full swing, there’s every chance Johnson gets *another* fine well before any are issued to Labour, if at all.

— Patrick Maguire (@patrickkmaguire) May 8, 2022

Kevin Schofield from HuffPost has more on the Labour thinking on why Keir Starmer should announce that, if he is fined by the police for a lockdown breach, he will resign.

As per @patrickkmaguire and @hzeffman‘s top scoop, a senior Labour source tells HuffPost: “He is more likely to go down that route than not … ultimately his instinct is that his integrity is more important to him than anything else.”https://t.co/XfGcb1F7fO

— Kevin Schofield (@KevinASchofield) May 9, 2022

Steven Swinford from the Times says Tory HQ has had to remind ministers today not to say that Keir Starmer should resign if he is fined over Beergate.

CCHQ advised all ministers this morning NOT to call for Keir Starmer’s resignation – they said to instead to focus on hypocrisy

It sent a terse reminder after Michelle Donelan came close to doing so during the morning broadcast round

— Steven Swinford (@Steven_Swinford) May 9, 2022

Obviously, calling for Starmer to resign in these circumstances would make it hard for the party to explain why Boris Johnson should not also resign for the fine he has already received. This is an argument understood by Conservative voters, according to the YouGov polling out today (see 11.44am) – but perhaps not by some ministers.

‘All options open’ for dealing with cost of living crisis, says No 10

And here are the main lines from the Downing Street lobby briefing.

  • The PM’s spokesperson did not deny a claim that the energy price cap could rise by more than £900 in the autumn. (See 12.32pm.)
  • The spokesperson said that the government was keeping all options open when considering how to help people with the cost of living crisis. Asked if tax cuts were being considered, the spokesperson said:

I think we’ve seen that this government will act at the right time whenever it’s able to do. The chancellor has reiterated that point over the weekend [in an article in the Mail on Sunday].

We have significant support already available, some of which is deliberately phased to come into force later on in the year. So it’s important not to discount the billions of pounds that’s already being spent of taxpayers money on this issue.

We know that this is forefront of the public’s minds, it’s certainly forefront [of] the prime minister’s mind, and we will keep all options open but beyond that, I wouldn’t speculate on what those measures might entail.

  • The Queen is expected to deliver the Queen’s speech in person tomorrow, but Buckingham Palace will confirm this tomorrow, No 10 said. Recently the Queen has had to miss some engagements because of mobility issues. If the Queen cannot attend, Prince Charles is expected to step in on her behalf.
  • The spokesperson defended Ben Wallace’s decision to compare Vladimir Putin to the Nazis this morning. In a speech Wallace said:

Through their invasion of Ukraine, Putin, his inner circle and generals are now mirroring the fascism and tyranny of 77 years ago, repeating the errors of last century’s totalitarian regimes.

The spokesperson said this was a “valid” comparision given that today is the day Russia celebrates the liberation of Europe from the Nazis at the end of the second world war. He said that it was important to push back against the “false narrative” promoted by Russia that its invasion is justified by the need to denazify Ukraine. That was “simply disinformation designed to justify an illegal war”, the spokesperson said.

  • The spokesperson said the government was “not setting a specific timeline” for when the dispute with the EU over the Northern Ireland protocol needed to be resolved.

These are from Robert Shrimsley from the Financial Times on the proposal (see 12.15pm) for Keir Starmer to confirm that he will resign if fined for breaking lockdown rules in Durham last year.

This is probably the right move but it’s a hell of a risk. If he’s not fined he looks brave and principled and is more of a contrast with Johnson. If he is then he is probably doomed anyway since integrity and upholding the law was his strongest point of differentiation. 1/2 https://t.co/YxaEOaNZV6

— robert shrimsley (@robertshrimsley) May 9, 2022

But the idea his departure would force out Johnson is probably for the birds. The Tories will just sit back and watch Labour plunge into leadership chaos and worry about it later.

— robert shrimsley (@robertshrimsley) May 9, 2022

Either way it would be a defining move and if it works out he’s significantly enhanced. Still a hell of a gamble for someone who has worked his way to be a party leader to risk it all on an unpredictable police decision

— robert shrimsley (@robertshrimsley) May 9, 2022

Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, has accused the Tories of using Beergate as part of a “massive operation” to distract attention away from Boris Johnson’s own lockdown breaches in Downing Street. Commenting on the controversy, she said:

Let’s let’s wait and see what comes of this.

What I do think is pretty obvious is that there is a massive operation under way on the part of the Conservatives to divert attention from Boris Johnson.

And not just Boris Johnson’s single breaking of the rules, but what appears to have been a serial breaching of the rules and, of course, Boris Johnson’s inability to be straight with the House of Commons.

Sturgeon opening NHS 24’s new centre at Hillington, Glasgow, this morning. NHS 24 is Scotland’s version of the 111 service. Photograph: Andrew Milligan/PA

Start being honest with voters about Northern Ireland protocol, EU tells UK

The EU has warned the UK to “dial down the rhetoric” and start being “honest” to voters about the Northern Ireland Brexit protocol after the historic Stormont election that put Sinn Féin top of the polls, my colleague Lisa O’Carroll reports.

No 10 does not deny claims energy price cap could rise by more than £900 in autumn

At the Downing Street lobby briefing No 10 did not deny reports that the energy price cap could rise by more than £900 in the autumn. Asked about the figure, which is a forecast from Scottish Power (see 10.58am), the prime minister’s spokesperson said he could not comment on speculation. He went on:

With Ofgem, I think it’s fair to say that we do expect there to be further increases later in the year. The chancellor has talked about that, and has made clear that we will look to do what we can to help with energy bills in the autumn when we know more about prices will be.

I will post more from the briefing shortly.

Keir Starmer considers saying he would resign if he were fined for lockdown breach claims, reports say

According to the Times, Keir Starmer is considering announcing that, if he were to be fined for breaking lockdown rules in Durham, he would resign. In their story, Henry Zeffman, Patrick Maguire and Chris Smyth say that an announcement from Starmer is likely today. They say:

Starmer’s allies fear that the next two months could be paralysed by the investigation. By saying he would resign if fined, some believe, Starmer would retain the moral high ground over Johnson, who was fined last month for a birthday gathering in 2020 and could face further fines.

“There’s a clear logic to it,” one supporter said. “It would give him something to say at the despatch box when Johnson raises it.”

Another influential Starmer supporter said: “He feels a huge sense of honour. He is the real deal. But he is less sure of himself on politics and determining what action would be best for him and the party.”

Given that Starmer said Boris Johnson should resign after he was fined for breaching lockdown rules when he attended a surprise birthday party in the cabinet room at No 10, it is hard to see how he could plausibly avoid resigning himself if found to be in the same situation. For that reason an announcement of this kind would make sense.

This is from Newsnight’s Lewis Goodall.

Have heard similar things. Really this is the only play if Starmer knows he would resign if fined anyway. This is the only way he gains political advantage from it if he comes through unscathed- by drawing a counterfactual comparison between himself and the Prime Minister. https://t.co/tTVfsy6r1J

— Lewis Goodall (@lewis_goodall) May 9, 2022

Starmer, of course, says that he did not break lockdown rules, and the evidence against him is far from compelling. Claims that this is equivalent to Partygate are spurious, for reasons explained here.

In interviews this morning Wes Streeting, the shadow health secretary, would not say whether or not he thought Starmer would have to resign if he were fined because he said he thought the prospect so improbable. He said:

Let’s just remember this central fact, which is the police have looked at this before, they found no case to answer. No action was taken. There’s no reason to think this time round will be any different.

What it will show is the stark contrast between Boris Johnson, who was fined, Boris Johnson who lied about there being any events whatsoever under his own roof, Boris Johnson who said all of that despite the fact we now know that officials were wheeling in suitcases full of booze into Number 10.

There is no comparison whatsoever between perfectly legitimate campaigning activity which Keir has never denied, and the actions of Boris Johnson and the people who work for him, which was rule-breaking, lying, completely unacceptable, and the fact that Boris Johnson is still there, I think, is remarkable and depressing.

The Household Cavalry rehearsing in Horse Guards Parade at dawn this morning ahead of the State Opening of Parliament tomorrow.
The Household Cavalry rehearsing in Horse Guards Parade at dawn this morning ahead of the state opening of parliament tomorrow. Photograph: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
The Household Cavalry rehearsing in Horse Guards Parade this morning ahead of the State Opening of Parliament tomorrow.

Photograph: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

More than half of Britons think Starmer definitely or probably broke lockdown rules with Beergate, poll suggests

The YouGov poll also suggests that more than half of Britons do think Keir Starmer definitely or probably broke lockdown rules with Beergate.

In his analysis for YouGov, Matthew Smith also points out that the beergate affair has not affected Starmer’s overall approval ratings. He says:

There is as yet no discernable impact on Starmer’s standing with the public as a result of the beergate saga. In mid-April, 31% of Britons had a positive impression of the Labour leader, compared to 54% with a negative view. As of this weekend, those figures are unchanged: 32% have a favourable view and 54% an unfavourable one.

According to a YouGov poll, almost half Britons (46%) think Keir Starmer should resign if he is fined over beergate. Some 32% think he should not have to resign.

The figures are very similar for people who voted Labour in 2019. Interestingly, Tory voters are less likely than Labour voters to say Starmer should resign if fined, but that is probably linked to the fact that most Tory voters do not believe that Boris Johnson should have to resign over the fine he has already received.

As explained earlier, even if Durham police does concluded that the rules were broken, it is not certain yet that they would issue a fine, because in the past they have not fined people over retrospective breaches of Covid regulations. (See 10.39am.)

Scottish Power boss urges Sunak to take swift action on energy bills crisis

Scottish Power has said that it thinks the energy price cap could rise by more than £900 in the autumn. As my colleague Alex Lawson reports, the company wants the government to underwrite a “deficit fund” that could allow energy suppliers to cut £1,000 off bills for low-income households. The money would be paid down over a decade by adding £40 a year to all household energy bills. Alex has more details here.

Commenting on the story, Ed Miliband, the shadow secretary of state for climate change and net zero, said:

As energy bills spiral for working people, this warning is yet another reminder that the Government is failing to tackle the cost of living crisis.

Energy bills have already risen to their highest level in a generation. Yet instead of offering real support, this government’s buy now, pay later loan scheme is wholly inadequate to meet the scale of need.

Michelle Donelan, the universities minister, was doing the morning interview round for the government today. She said scrapping the Northern Ireland protocol was still “on the table” as an option for the government to pursue if the talks with the EU did not reach an acceptable conclusion.

She also accused Keir Starmer of hypocrisy over Beergate. Asked if he should resign if fined by Durham police, she replied:

My constituents are saying that this whole thing smacks of sheer hypocrisy given the relentless focus he has placed on Partygate.

I think this is a decision for him, he’s going to have to search his soul after making this a top priority over the last few months at the expense of key issues like rising cost of living, etc, but look this is a decision for him. My takeaway is that it does smack of sheer hypocrisy.

In the past Durham police said its general approach was not to take retrospective action in relation to breaches of Covid rules. When it investigated Dominic Cummings’ trip to Barnard Castle in 2020, it concluded that Cummings may have committed a minor breach of the rules, but did not fine him. But it is not clear whether it would apply this same approach to Starmer.

Even without a fine, Starmer would still come under intense pressure to resign if the Durham police were to issue a statement saying he broke lockdown rules.

‘Landing zone’ available for deal between UK and EU on NI protocol, says Irish PM

Micheál Martin, the Irish taoiseach, has used an interview with RTÉ to give his reaction to the election results in Northern Ireland, where Sinn Féin emerged as the largest party. Here are the key points.

  • Martin said that he thought a “landing zone” was available where the UK and the EU could agree a compromise for reform of the Northern Ireland protocol. Referring to British claims that the EU has not been willing to be flexible, he said:

I don’t think the assessment that is coming from the British government is a fair assessment of the EU’s position. I think the European Union has been flexible, has demonstrated flexibility, but every time up to now that the European Union has demonstrated flexibility, it hasn’t been reciprocated. And that has made the EU more cautious in terms of the discussions with the United Kingdom government.

He also claimed that now an agreement might be possible.

I think the moment is now for both the EU and the UK. The British government wants to bring this to a conclusion. Any further sort of negative developments on this front will prove that Brexit isn’t being done.

  • He said the DUP should rejoin the executive in Northern Ireland without making removal of the protocol in its current form a precondition. He said:

All the parties, bar the Traditional Unionist Voice, focused on the bread-and-butter issues.

My sense is that the mandate they got was to take their assembly seats.

This was an election fought on current topical issues and, therefore, I think parties could lose out if they do not respond to what people said to them on the doorsteps.

  • He said he did not think the Sinn Féin victory meant an early border poll was probable, saying he was “amused” by speculation about this. He explained:

That was not the mandate sought by Sinn Féin in the last three weeks. The whole campaign was on cost of living, on health and on housing.

The border poll was nearly buried from its documentation and its manifesto and, [as] soon as the votes are counted, it is brought back into centre stage.

He also said that Sinn Féin itself did not seem to be planning for a border poll. He said:

What work have they done themselves in relation to that? Where is Sinn Féin’s work on this? It’s fairly scant now in terms of substance.

  • He said that he did not agree with calls for a citizens’ assembly on Irish unity. He said:

I don’t favour that approach because I think the way you build bridges between North and South is by first of all the political parties and members of parties, members of society more generally, engaging more and more.

Ben Wallace accuses Russian military leadership of ‘amorality and corruption’

Ben Wallace, the defence secretary, has accused leaders of the Russian military of “amorality and corrupion”. In a speech at the National Army Museum in Chelsea, London, he referred to the Russian soldiers killed during the second world war and went on:

I thought about the scale of the suffering across the Soviet Union, but also how the suffering was used then as it is now – to cover up the inadequacy of those ruling in safety and comfort from behind the Kremlin walls above and within the general staff nearby.

Most Soviet conscripts hadn’t a chance. The suffering was often needless. In the absence of effective military leadership many of their best officers were purged by the NKVD [the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs] for counter-revolutionary crimes.

For barrier troops executed swathes of retreating soldiers, deemed unpatriotic for failing to press on in the face of unassailable odds.

Fear and sycophancy dictated behaviours then, and today’s Russian armed forces still carry that Soviet imprint – the imprint of amorality and corruption.

Labour denies Starmer dodging scrutiny over beergate as source says late-arriving curry made event against rules

Good morning. We’re one day away from the Queen’s speech, but the story with most traction at Westminster this morning is still beergate – the claim that Keir Starmer broke lockdown rules in April last year when he had a beer and a takeaway meal with Labour workers at the end of day campaigning.

Starmer was due to take part in a Q&A at the Institute for Government today, but that has been cancelled. Labour sources have said that diary changes are to blame, but they have not given more details. Wes Streeting, the shadow health secretary, was giving interviews this morning and he said he had “no idea” why the event was cancelled; he did not even bother to ask, he said, because he thought it was such a trivial issue. He also ridiculed the suggestion that Starmer was avoiding scrutiny.

The idea that Keir has been avoiding scrutiny when he’s been out all weekend in front of cameras celebrating those brilliant results we got in the local elections last week, you know, whether or not he’s done an event, his diary changes all the time. It’s kind of neither here nor there really.

Streeting was speaking as Politico’s London Playbook published fresh details about what happened at the event from an unnamed source “familiar with what happened last night”. Of the various revelations that come out yesterday, the most incriminating was probably a claim from an unnamed source who was present who told the Sunday Times that some of the Labour staff there were “just getting pissed” (which undermines claims they were working). The Playbook source makes exactly the same allegation. (It may be the same person, although Playbook says its source thinks there may be two Labour whistleblowers from the event speaking to the media.)

But the Playbook source also adds a detail that adds a new element of absurdity to the story. They say the takeaway curry was meant to arrive while Starmer was doing an online Zoom event for party members, but that it arrived late – and that that is the reason why a debate has arisen as to whether work was still going on when it was consumed. The source said:

There was no work being done. There just wasn’t. The Zoom events had finished … If the curry was on time during the Zoom call it wouldn’t have been a breach [of the lockdown rules]. But it was late and work had finished. It wasn’t work and there was no work afterwards that I’m aware of.

Labour insists that Starmer and others were still working as they consumed the meal after the online event was over. They argue the meal was justified under lockdown rules because it was necessary for work.

Parliament is still not sitting today, but we are getting a lobby briefing at 11.30am.

I try to monitor the comments below the line (BTL) but it is impossible to read them all. If you have a direct question, do include “Andrew” in it somewhere and I’m more likely to find it. I do try to answer questions, and if they are of general interest, I will post the question and reply above the line (ATL), although I can’t promise to do this for everyone.

If you want to attract my attention quickly, it is probably better to use Twitter. I’m on @AndrewSparrow.

Alternatively, you can email me at andrew.sparrow@theguardian.com.

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/live/2022/may/09/boris-johnson-labour-keir-starmer-beer-election-results-uk-politics-live

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