Labour denies Keir Starmer dodging scrutiny over lockdown beer – UK politics live

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.



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