NICOLA Sturgeon has dismissed Tory outrage at Keir Starmer over “beergate” as part of a “massive operation” to divert attention away from Boris Johnson’s “serial breaching” of lockdown rules.

The First Minister spoke out as reports suggested the UK Labour leader could pledge to resign if he is fined by police – a move which would crank up the pressure on the Prime Minister to quit.

On Monday, Starmer cancelled a scheduled speech at the Institute for Government – though Labour said he was not “ducking scrutiny” by no longer taking part.

It comes amid an investigation by police over whether a beer and curry gathering in Durham in April last year breached lockdown rules.

Labour insist the food was consumed between work events, meaning it was within the rules despite the ban on indoor socialising.

But the party's leader faced fresh questions after a leaked memo suggested the takeaway was planned, with no further work apparently scheduled after dinner.

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Sturgeon said with a police investigation under way it “would be wrong for me to comment in any more detail”.

She stated: “Let’s let’s wait and see what comes of this.”

The First Minister added: “What I do think is pretty obvious is that there is a massive operation under way on the part of the Conservatives to divert attention from Boris Johnson.

“And not just Boris Johnson’s single breaking of the rules, but what appears to have been a serial breaching of the rules and, of course, Boris Johnson’s inability to be straight with the House of Commons.”

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Johnson, his wife Carrie Johnson and the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, have all been fined by the Metropolitan Police as a result of their attendance at a party in Westminster which is deemed to have broken lockdown rules.

Speaking during a visit to Scotland on Saturday, Starmer said he was “confident” he had not broken the rules, imposed to help prevent the spread of coronavirus.

He added: “As I have explained a number of times, I was working in the office, we stopped for something to eat.

“There was no party, no breach of rules, I am confident of that.”

The Times reports the Labour leader may announce he will resign if he is fined by the police over his role in the event.

The move would be designed to allow Starmer to stay on the offensive against Johnson, who has refused to stand down despite being fined – with further fixed penalty notices potentially on the way.

“There’s a clear logic to it,” A Labour source told the Times. “It would give him something to say at the dispatch box when Johnson raises it.”

Another added: “He feels a huge sense of honour. He is the real deal. But he is less sure of himself on politics and determining what action would be best for him and the party.”

The National: A screengrab from the social media video showing Keir Starmer holding a beer while a Labour staffer eats in the backgroundA screengrab from the social media video showing Keir Starmer holding a beer while a Labour staffer eats in the background

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Downing Street refused to say whether Starmer should quit if fined for breaking lockdown rules.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “Again, you wouldn’t expect me to get into commenting on what the leader of the opposition should do.

“It’s not one for me, I am afraid.”

Brexit Opportunities Minister Jacob Rees-Mogg suggested there was no need for Starmer to resign if he was fined.

“The difficulty for Sir Keir is he said – before any result of any investigation – that the Prime Minister should resign,” he told Channel 4’s Andrew Neil Show. “Which sets a rather high standard and I think the issue for him is one of judgment.”

Asked if the Labour chief should quit if he was found to have broken the law, Rees-Mogg said: “I think he should pay a fine and then talk about the issues of great importance to the nation.”

Labour’s shadow health secretary, Wes Streeting, said the Tories have been “slinging mud” at his boss for weeks.

He told Sky News: “We’ve had weeks and weeks of the Tories slinging mud at Keir Starmer, hoping that people will just conclude that we’re all the same, there’s no point in changing prime ministers because the next one will be as bad as the current one.

“That’s just not true. I’m not going to get into the game that the Tories are playing with their friends in the media of trying to smear a decent man and pretend that Keir Starmer’s behaviour is in any way comparable with Boris Johnson.

“How Conservatives have the barefaced cheek to come out gloating and demanding resignations, and throwing around accusations of hypocrisy at a decent man like Keir Starmer, I don’t know.

“They should get their own house in order, if not for decency and honesty in public life, but for those hundreds of Conservative councillors who lost their seats because their Prime Minister’s a liar.”

According to a YouGov survey over the weekend, 46% of people believe Starmer should resign if he is fined by police, 

That includes 48% of those who voted Labour at the last election, which is higher than those who voted Tory, at 40%.

With the police investigation continuing, 54% responded that Starmer either probably or definitely broke the rules.