Keir Starmer has pulled out of an event at which he would have faced questions about the police inquiry into allegations he breached Covid rules with a beer and curry.
Labour has declined to explain why its leader has cancelled the appearance at the Institute for Government on “meeting the challenges the country faces” ahead of Tuesday’s Queen’s Speech.
The even offered Sir Keir a platform to pile further pressure on the government to show it is dealing with the cost of living crisis in the crucial unveiling of up to 30 bills for the new parliamentary session.
But his attempts to build on last week’s encouraging local election results have been undermined by Durham Police looking again at the lockdown event in April last year, dubbed ‘Beergate’ by his enemies.
The Labour leader was filmed drinking a beer while sharing a takeaway meal with party colleagues, at the end of a day spent campaigning for the council elections last year.
He has insisted indoor gatherings, and eating and drinking during them, were allowed under the rules at the time if such meetings were “reasonably necessary for work”.
The Conservatives have accused him of hypocrisy, after he called for Boris Johnson to resign for lying to parliament over the No 10 parties – which police have concluded did break Covid laws.
Wes Streeting, the shadow education secretary, said he did not know why Sir Keir had cancelled his appearance, but told the BBC: “I just don’t understand the controversy.
“I certainly don’t understand the comparison between that and the regular, repeated rule-breaking we saw in the heart of Downing Street.”