Sir Keir Starmer opens up about ‘burden’ of ‘beergate’ saga

The Labour leader says he ‘hated’ being subject to a criminal investigation, and was ‘massively pleased’ when he was cleared of breaching Covid rules.

21 July 2022

Sir Keir Starmer has opened up about his experience of the “beergate” saga, saying he “hated” being subject to a criminal investigation.

The Labour leader said the probe into claims he breached Covid rules weighed on him like a “burden”, and he was “massively pleased” when he was cleared.

Sir Keir and his deputy Angela Rayner had pledged to resign if they received fines in relation to a gathering in the offices of a local Labour MP in England’s north east in April 2021.

However, Durham Constabulary found there was no case to answer.

The investigation, if it had resulted in fixed-penalty notices, would have plunged the party into political turmoil just as Westminster was grappling with the resignation of Boris Johnson.

Speaking to Beth Rigby Interviews on Sky News, Sir Keir said: “I really hated it, if I’m honest, being subject to a criminal investigation, when you’ve been the director of public prosecutions, I hated it.

“And I’m not like other people in many respects, who may say, well, it doesn’t really matter… it really meant a lot to me.

“It was a burden that I was carrying.

“I’m trying not to show it of course.

“But it was, you know, it was there every day.

“And of course, I was massively pleased when the decision came through, completely exonerated me.”

The Labour leader said he spoke to his wife before putting his “whole career on the line” by pledging to resign if he was found to have broken the rules.

“Everything I’ve ever done, been a lawyer, I’ve worked in Northern Ireland, I’ve been director of public prosecutions, been an MP, leader of the Labour Party, I put all of that on the line,” he said.

“And I wasn’t going to do that until I sat down as I did on that Sunday, and talked it through with Vic, my wife.”

He said he was in the north west of the country when the police announced they had decided to launch an investigation into the matter after receiving “significant new information”.

“I got the train back that afternoon and I knew in my gut, what I was going to do, Vic knew I was going to do,” he said.

“And she supported me through it.

“But I needed to talk to her about it, (it) was such a big decision.”

Keir Starmer visit to Gateshead
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer (Owen Humphreys/PA)

Reflecting on his leadership, and how he may be viewed, Sir Keir said he does not think he is boring, but: “I’m not going to pretend that I think that politics is a branch of the entertainment business, it’s not.

“All the formalities of the Parliament, the way we debate, I find it very stifling,” he said.

“What I like is when we get out, we go around the country, we talk to people where they are, whatever they are doing.

“And I often say to them, what do you want from a government?

“What’s the thing that you want most?

“And none of them say to me, ‘oh, we need a bit more entertainment’.

“‘We need a few one liners’.

“They say ‘I want someone serious, who understands my life’.”

Pressed on Labour’s position on the recent train strikes which crippled the country, Sir Keir said he told his shadow cabinet that those in government have to “resolve these issues”.

“One of the problems we’ve had in a party for a long time now is that we envisage ourselves as in opposition the whole time, we have to get in the mindset of being in government,” he said.

“If you’re in government, this was what I said to my shadow cabinet when we had the discussion… and you’re around the Cabinet table, then you have to resolve these issues, you have to make sure that the negotiations complete successfully.

“You can’t have a Cabinet meeting and then go out onto the picket line.

“That’s not to say you don’t support what’s going on, you don’t understand why people are taking industrial action… but my job is to make sure we have a Labour government, and to make sure that all of us face the public and all of us understand what leadership means, and leadership means that you are running the country.”

He added that “of course” a prime minister cannot go on a picket line.

“The Prime Minister has to run the country, has to bring people together around the negotiating table,” he said.

“But that can’t be and shouldn’t be translated into a lack of understanding, to just how much people are struggling after 10 years of Tory failure on the economy.”

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