LONDON (Reuters) -British Labour Party leader Keir Starmer said on Monday he would resign if police decide he broke COVID-19 rules, putting pressure on Prime Minister Boris Johnson who has refused to step down after he was fined over a lockdown-busting party.
After months of Johnson being criticised for attending parties at his Downing Street residence when Britain was in a strict coronavirus lockdown, attention has turned to a gathering Starmer attended last year in the northeast of England.
British police said on Friday they would investigate Starmer over a potential breach of the lockdown rules in 2021 after receiving significant new information. Footage from April 2021 shows him drinking a bottle of beer with colleagues indoors, when such gatherings were banned if not essential for work. [L5N2WY4J1]
Starmer and his main opposition Labour Party had repeatedly called for Johnson and his finance minister, Rishi Sunak, to resign after both received fines relating to a birthday party celebration thrown for staff in Downing Street in June 2020.
But he had, until now, declined to say whether he would resign if he was found to have broken the rules.
"I believe in honour, in integrity and the principle that those who made the rules must follow them ... I am absolutely clear that no laws were broken, they were followed at all times. I simply had something to eat while working late in the evening," Starmer told reporters.
"But if the police decide to issue me with a fixed penalty notice, I would of course do the right thing and step down."
Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner said in a statement that she would also "do the decent thing and step down" if issued with a fine from the police.
Starmer, who previously served as the country's top prosecutor, has been described by Labour colleagues as "Mr Rules" and struggled with questions about his possible resignation after he called for others to quit.
It is a gamble, but many Labour lawmakers believe Starmer will not be handed a fine over the gathering last year.
The move will also be used by Labour to try to take the upper hand over the governing Conservative Party, which was punished by voters at local elections last week over so-called "partygate" and a growing cost of living crisis.
After losing control of traditional strongholds in London last week, Johnson hopes to use the introduction of a new legislative programme on Tuesday to reset his agenda.
(Reporting by William James and Elizabeth Piper, Editing by Kylie MacLellan, Kate Holton anad Alison Williams)