A lockdown rules lawyer has said a leaked document showing Keir Starmer attending a pre-arranged meal in Durham during an election could be used to clear the Labor leader of allegations he breached the law.
The document, published by the Mail on Sunday, shows an 80-minute dinner with Labor MP Mary Foy, complete with a curry to take away, was on her schedule.
The newspaper claimed the document showed the event was organized in advance, “so no different to the No 10 events”.
The Tories argued the memo was proof the meal broke lockdown rules, as it showed it was scheduled to take place between 8.40pm and 10pm, not just a spontaneous decision to order from the food.
But Adam Wagner, a Doughty Street Chambers human rights lawyer, said he did not believe the leaked memo showed Starmer broke the rules.
“Seeing that this was a planned event as part of the Leader of the Opposition’s visit to Durham – during a local election campaign, an event focused on his attendance with a local MP and his staff, and it was evening and food was ordered because it was evening – not sure how that could be a breach of the rules.
“The regulations permitted any gathering reasonably necessary for work or voluntary activity. And obviously the whole purpose of this visit was for the Leader of the Opposition to visit local activists and the local MP and all of that is planned.
“So the police would have to say, ‘Well, we disagree with Labor’s analysis of what was reasonably necessary for the leader’s trip to Durham’ and I doubt they can really go behind it. this reasoning,” he said.
“The problem with the Downing Street events was that they were pre-arranged social events.
“Those being investigated are those for whom it is quite obvious that the purpose of the event was social – a Christmas party, a going away party, a birthday party.
“Considering that the fact that this [Starmer event] is pre-planned, I think shows the opposite. This shows that the purpose was political.
He also argued that the event was analogous to the Downing Street rally where Johnson and his staff were photographed drinking wine and eating cheese in Garden No 10 where they allegedly discussed labor matters.
This event was not investigated by the Met, Wagner pointed out.
Wagner said Durham Police’s decision to launch an investigation could lead to Boris Johnson being asked to release his timetable.
“Are they going to look at the Prime Minister’s schedule and every time he ate, on trips to various constituencies during last year’s local elections, and ask if this event was reasonably necessary?” he said.
Durham Police are also expected to explain why the force is investigating Starmer two years after the event when they declined to investigate Dominic Cummings due to a policy of not taking “retrospective action”, Wagner said.
He added: ‘The first question for Durham Police is: what is their policy and do they apply it consistently?
“I think it would be illegal if the reason they’re investigating is because they’re under a lot of pressure from the newspapers and politically.”
Another prominent attorney said he believed the leaked memo put Starmer in a difficult position.
Matthew Scott, who publishes under the name BarristerBlogger, tweeted: “This is embarrassing for Starmer. The curry was planned in advance, at the end of the working day.