Sir Keir Starmer has pulled out of a keynote speech on Monday as the Labour leading comes under growing pressure over “beergate” accusations.
Sir Keir said he had been taking a brief break for food during a local election campaign, before returning to work, meaning it would have been allowed under lockdown rules permitting work gatherings at the time.
On Sunday, the Mail on Sunday published an itinerary of the day, which appeared to show an 80-minute dinner was pre-planned at the end of the day, leading Conservatives to accuse Mr Starmer of hypocrisy.
Durham Police has confirmed it is investigating, while a source allegedly present told the Sunday Times that some people were only there to socialise.
Sir Keir had been due to deliver a speech on the “challenges the country faces” at the Institute for Government on Monday but the event was cancelled.
The Labour leader has been strenuously defended by allies, who say there is no comparison between pausing for food and lockdown breaches in government which have already led to fines for the Prime Minister and Chancellor.
Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting denied his party’s leader was seeking to avoid scrutiny by cancelling the event, where he would have faced questions from journalists.
He told BBC Breakfast on Monday: “I have no idea why he cancelled the event and I certainly didn’t ask before I came on because I think it’s such a trivial issue.
“The idea that Keir has been dodging questions … I mean he’s been out all weekend, even after a local election campaign where we did very well, he’s been out thanking Labour teams, particularly in the places that we did particularly well in these elections.”
Mr Streeting added that Sir Keir has faced journalists “wherever he’s been”, adding: “The idea that Keir is somehow ducking scrutiny is simply not true.”
He also told Good Morning Britain that he is “absolutely confident” that Sir Keir has told the truth and kept to the rules “because that’s the kind of guy he is”.
Adam Wagner, a human rights barrister with expertise in Covid laws, said he thought the gathering would be permissible as the rules allowed “gatherings indoors if reasonably necessary for work and/or volunteering”.
Labour has repeatedly said that the curry and beer takeaway was eaten in between work demands and insists that no rules were broken.
According to the Sunday Times, Durham Police have set up a major incident room to look into the incident, with up to six officers expected to spend the next four to six weeks investigating.
However, the force has said that it did not issue fines retrospectively.