Keir Starmer

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Sir Keir Starmer

Official portrait of Keir Starmer crop 2.jpg
Starmer in 2017
Leader of the Opposition
Assumed office
4 April 2020
MonarchElizabeth II
Prime MinisterBoris Johnson
Preceded byJeremy Corbyn
Leader of the Labour Party
Assumed office
4 April 2020
DeputyAngela Rayner
Preceded byJeremy Corbyn
Shadow Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union
In office
6 October 2016 – 4 April 2020
LeaderJeremy Corbyn
Preceded byEmily Thornberry
Succeeded byOffice abolished
Shadow Minister of State for Immigration
In office
14 September 2015 – 27 June 2016
LeaderJeremy Corbyn
Preceded byDavid Hanson
Succeeded byAfzal Khan
Member of Parliament
for Holborn and St Pancras
Assumed office
7 May 2015
Preceded byFrank Dobson
Majority27,763 (48.9%)
Director of Public Prosecutions
In office
1 November 2008 – 1 November 2013
Appointed byThe Baroness Scotland of Asthal
Preceded byKen Macdonald
Succeeded byAlison Saunders
Personal details
Keir Rodney Starmer

(1962-09-02) 2 September 1962 (age 57)
Southwark, London, England
Political partyLabour
Victoria Alexander (m. 2007)
EducationReigate Grammar School
Guildhall School of Music and Drama
Alma mater
WebsiteOfficial website

Sir Keir Rodney Starmer KCB QC MP (born 2 September 1962) is a British politician who has served as Leader of the Labour Party and Leader of the Opposition since 2020. He has been Member of Parliament for Holborn and St Pancras since 2015. Ideologically, he identifies as a socialist and has been described as being on the soft left within the Labour Party.

After qualifying for the bar, he acted exclusively as a defence lawyer specialising in human rights issues, before being appointed as a Queen's Counsel (QC) in 2002. In 2008, he became Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and Head of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), holding these roles until 2013. For his role as Director of Public Prosecutions, Starmer was appointed Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath (KCB) in the 2014 New Year Honours.

Elected to the House of Commons in the 2015 general election, Starmer was appointed to the Shadow Cabinet in October 2016 as Shadow Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, after the vote to leave the European Union. Starmer was a vocal advocate for a second referendum, saying he would have voted to remain. After Labour's defeat in the 2019 general election, Starmer was elected to succeed Jeremy Corbyn as Leader of the Labour Party in April 2020.

Early life and education

Keir Rodney Starmer was born in Southwark, London, on 2 September 1962[1][2] and grew up in the small town of Oxted in Surrey.[3][4][5] He was born second of the four children of Josephine (née Baker), a nurse, and Rodney Starmer, a toolmaker.[5][6][7] His mother had Still's disease.[8][9] His parents were Labour Party supporters, and named him after the party's first parliamentary leader, Keir Hardie.[10] He passed the 11-plus examination and gained entry to Reigate Grammar School,[10] then a voluntary aided state school, although it converted to an independent fee-paying grammar school in 1976 while he was there.[11] Among his classmates were Norman Cook (aka Fatboy Slim), alongside whom Starmer took violin lessons, Andrew Cooper, who went on to become a Conservative peer, and Andrew Sullivan, who subsequently became well known as a conservative journalist in the United States: according to Starmer, he and Sullivan "fought over everything... Politics, religion. You name it".[5] In his teenage years Starmer was active in Labour politics, and was a member of the East Surrey Young Socialists.[6][5] He was a junior exhibitioner at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama until the age of 18, and played the flute, piano, recorder and violin.[12]

He studied law at the University of Leeds, graduating with a first class Bachelor of Laws (LLB) degree in 1985, becoming the first member of his family to graduate.[13][14] He undertook postgraduate studies at St Edmund Hall, Oxford, graduating from the University of Oxford as a Bachelor of Civil Law (BCL) in 1986.[15][13] In 1986-87, Starmer edited the radical magazine, Socialist Alternatives.[16]

Legal career


Starmer became a barrister in 1987, at the Middle Temple, later becoming a bencher there in 2009.[1] He served as a legal officer for the campaign group Liberty until 1990.[17] He was a member of Doughty Street Chambers from 1990 onwards, primarily working on human rights issues.[8][17] He has been called to the bar in several Caribbean countries,[18] where he has defended convicts sentenced to the death penalty.[5] He notably worked for Helen Steel and David Morris in the McLibel case, which went to court in 1997. In an interview, he described the case as "very much a David and Goliath", and said that "there's an extremely good legal team acting for McDonald's at great expense and Dave and Helen have had to act for themselves with me as a sort of free back up whenever possible." He was interviewed for McLibel, the documentary about the case directed by Franny Armstrong and Ken Loach.[19]

He was appointed Queen's Counsel on 9 April 2002, aged 39.[20] In the same year, he became joint head of Doughty Street Chambers. Starmer served as a human rights adviser to the Northern Ireland Policing Board and the Association of Chief Police Officers, and was also a member of the Foreign Office's death penalty advisory panel from 2002 to 2008.[1][17] He later cited his work on policing in Northern Ireland as being a key influence on his decision to pursue a political career: "Some of the things I thought that needed to change in police services we achieved more quickly than we achieved in strategic litigation... I came better to understand how you can change by being inside and getting the trust of people". During this time he also marched and authored legal opinions against the Iraq War.[5] In 2007, he was named "QC of the Year" by Chambers and Partners.[21]

Director of Public Prosecutions

In July 2008, Attorney General Baroness Scotland of Asthal named Starmer as the new Head of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and Director of Public Prosecutions; he took over from Ken Macdonald on 1 November 2008.[22] Macdonald, himself a former defence lawyer, publicly welcomed the appointment.[10] Starmer was considered to be bringing a focus on human rights into the legal system.[17]

In 2009, when the Conservative Party proposed repealing the Human Rights Act, Starmer defended it as a "clear and basic statement of our citizen's human rights".[23] Liberty and the Liberal Democrats supported Starmer, while the Conservative MP David T. C. Davies suggested that he should be sacked.[24] In the same year, he called for the CPS to modernise by being more open to scrutiny and less reliant on paper files.[25] In 2011, he would introduce reforms that included the "first test paperless hearing".[26]

In February 2010, Starmer announced the CPS's decision to prosecute three Labour MPs and a Conservative peer for offences relating to false accounting in the aftermath of the United Kingdom parliamentary expenses scandal.[27] They were all found guilty.[28] In the same year, he also supported proposals to legally recognise different degrees of murder.[29] In 2010, and 2012, Starmer said that there was insufficient evidence to prosecute two members of the UK security services for their alleged role in torture overseas, but supported further investigation.[30] In July 2010, Starmer announced the decision not to prosecute the police officer Simon Harwood in relation to the death of Ian Tomlinson; this led to accusations by Tomlinson's family of a police cover-up.[31] After a subsequent inquest found that Tomlinson had been unlawfully killed, Starmer announced that Harwood would be prosecuted for manslaughter. The officer was acquitted in July 2012 by a jury, but dismissed from the police that September.[32][33][34] In December 2010, Starmer changed the decision process to require his personal approval to prosecute women who withdraw accusations of rape.[35] He later produced guidelines to prevent the same women from being unfairly prosecuted.[36]

During the 2011 riots, Starmer prioritised rapid prosecutions of rioters over long sentences, which he later thought had helped to bring “the situation back under control.”[37] Later that year, after revelations concerning the undercover police infiltration of environmental campaigns, Starmer ordered a review of related convictions and invited protestors convicted of aggravated trespass to appeal their sentences.[38] Starmer declined to authorise a wider enquiry, after a report from the judge Christopher Rose found the issue to be a result of individual fault rather than a systemic problem.[39]

In February 2012, Starmer announced that Energy Secretary Chris Huhne and his former wife, Vicky Pryce, would be prosecuted for perverting the course of justice. Huhne became the first Cabinet Minister in British history to be compelled to resign as a result of criminal proceedings.[40] Starmer had previously said in relation to the case that "[w]here there is sufficient evidence we do not shy away from prosecuting politicians".[41] Later that year, he wrote advice for prosecutors, saying that they should consider whether violent protestors organised or prepared for violence, compared to protestors who got "caught up in illegal actions".[42] In the summer of 2012, journalist Nick Cohen published allegations that Starmer was personally responsible for allowing to proceed the prosecution of Paul Chambers in what became known as the "Twitter Joke Trial". Chambers’ conviction of sending a message "of a menacing character" was quashed after a third appeal. The CPS denied that Starmer was behind the decision, saying that it was the responsibility of a Crown Court and was out of Starmer's hands.[43] Later that year, Starmer published a plan for the criminal justice system to better handle cases of female genital mutilation, an offence which at the time had never been successfully prosecuted.[44] At the end of 2012, he published guidance on prosecuting cases of grossly offensive posts on social media that called for caution in prosecuting cases, and considering whether users quickly removed posts or showed remorse.[45][46]

In 2013, Starmer announced changes to how sexual abuse investigations would be handled in the wake of the Jimmy Savile sexual abuse scandal, including a panel to review historic complaints.[47][48] In the same year, he published a study showing that false reports of rape were rare, saying that the "devastating impact of false allegations" and the perception that they're more common than the data support mean that police forces might adopt a "cautious" approach that can "lead to injustice for victims".[49] He also started an inquiry into the cause of a reduction in police reports of rape and domestic abuse.[50] In the same year, he altered guidelines for those improperly claiming benefits enabling them to face ten years in prison under the Fraud Act.[51]

Starmer left office in November 2013, and was replaced by Alison Saunders.[52][53] Later that month, the Labour Party announced that Starmer would lead an enquiry into changing the law to give further protection to victims in cases of rape and child abuse.[54] On 28 December, he said to BBC News he was "rather enjoying having some free time" and "considering a number of options".[55] There was speculation at the time that he would stand as a Labour Party candidate for Parliament.[56]

Early political career

Member of Parliament

Starmer was selected in December 2014 to be the Labour Party's prospective parliamentary candidate for the safe Labour constituency of Holborn and St Pancras, following the decision of the sitting MP Frank Dobson to retire.[57] Starmer was elected at the 2015 general election with a majority of 17,048.[58] He was urged by a number of activists to stand to be leader of the Labour Party in the 2015 leadership election following the resignation of Ed Miliband, but he ruled this out, citing his relative lack of political experience.[59][60] During the campaign, Starmer supported Andy Burnham, who finished second to Jeremy Corbyn.[61]

Corbyn appointed Starmer to the shadow Home Office ministerial team as Shadow Minister of State for Immigration, a role from which he resigned in 2016 in protest at Corbyn's leadership, along with numerous other Labour MPs,[62][63] arguing that it was "simply untenable now to suggest we can offer an effective opposition without a change of leader".[64]

Shadow Brexit Secretary

Following Corbyn's re-election as leader in September 2016, Starmer accepted an appointment as shadow Brexit secretary, replacing Emily Thornberry in this role.[65] On taking up the role, Starmer resigned from a consultancy position with the law firm specialising in human rights, Mishcon de Reya LLP, that had acted for Gina Miller in bringing legal proceedings against the Government.[66]

In his role as shadow Brexit secretary, Starmer questioned the Government's "destination" for the UK outside of the European Union, as well as calling for Brexit plans to be made public. On 6 December 2016, Prime Minister Theresa May confirmed the publication of such plans, in what some considered a victory for Starmer.[67] He has argued that the Government would be subject to a race against time to pass a large number of new laws, or risk an "unsustainable legal vacuum", if Britain left the EU without a deal.[68] On 25 September 2018, Starmer declared to the Labour Party Conference in Liverpool that "campaigning [by the party] for a public vote must be an option".[69]

Starmer has called for a reform to the EU free movement rules following Brexit and for a "fundamental rethink of immigration rules from start to finish".[70] In his first interview after being appointed to the Shadow Cabinet, Starmer argued that immigration was too high and called for it to be reduced as Britain leaves the EU, despite Corbyn ruling out any cap.[71] Starmer told Politico in November 2016 that negotiations with the EU should start on the understanding that there must be "some change" to freedom of movement rules, given that remaining in the EU single market is no longer a reality.[72]

In May 2017, Starmer said that "free movement has to go", but that it was important to retain "free movement of labour", given the importance of immigration for the UK's economy.[73] Starmer was a supporter of a second referendum on Brexit,[74] with this position becoming Labour Party policy in their 2019 general election manifesto.[75]

Leadership of the Labour Party

Starmer speaking at a leadership hustings in Bristol in February 2020

Following Labour's heavy defeat in the 2019 general election, Jeremy Corbyn announced that he would stand down as Leader of the Labour Party. Starmer announced his candidacy in the ensuing leadership election on 4 January 2020, winning multiple endorsements from MPs as well as from the trade union Unison.[76] He went on to win the leadership contest on 4 April 2020, beating rivals Rebecca Long-Bailey and Lisa Nandy, with 56.2% of the vote in the first round,[77] and therefore also became Leader of the Opposition.[78] In his acceptance speech, he said would refrain from "scoring party political points" and that he planned to "engage constructively with the government", having become Opposition Leader amid the COVID-19 pandemic.[79] He appointed his Shadow Cabinet the following day, which included former leader Ed Miliband, as well as both of the candidates he defeated in the leadership contest. He also appointed Anneliese Dodds as Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, making her the first woman to serve in that position in either a ministerial or shadow ministerial position.[80]

During the April pandemic lockdown, Starmer warned that the government was "in danger of being slow on their exit strategy" and called for "a roadmap to lift restrictions in certain sectors of the economy".[81][82] But, despite various criticisms, he said that "the government is trying to do the right thing. And in that, we will support them."[83]

On 25 June 2020, Starmer sacked his former leadership rival, Rebecca Long-Bailey, from her post as Shadow Secretary of State for Education after she retweeted an interview by the actress Maxine Peake in The Independent in which Peake said that the practice of kneeling on someone's neck by US police, as used in the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, was "learnt from seminars with Israeli secret services". The original article stated that "the Israeli police has denied this."[84] Starmer said that because the article "contained anti-Semitic conspiracy theories" it should not have been shared by Long-Bailey.[85][86] The decision to sack Long-Bailey was criticised by the Socialist Campaign Group, whose members had a meeting with Starmer about the decision.[87] The decision was welcomed by Jewish groups including the Board of Deputies and the Jewish Labour Movement. Starmer said that "restoring trust with the Jewish community is a number one priority. Antisemitism takes many different forms and it is important that we all are vigilant against it."[88][89] On 27 June, he replaced her with Kate Green.[90]

Political positions

Starmer has stated that his advocacy of socialism is motivated by "a burning desire to tackle inequality and injustice".[91] He has been described as being on the "soft left".[92][93][94] Gavin Millar, a former legal colleague of Starmer's, has described his politics as "red-green", a characterisation Starmer has agreed with.[5]

He supports social ownership and investment in the UK's public services, including the NHS, as well as the abolition of university tuition fees.[95][96][97] He has called for an increase in income tax for the top 5% of earners and an end to tax avoidance by corporations.[95] He advocates the reversal of the Conservative Party's cuts in corporation tax and supported Labour's anti-austerity proposals under Jeremy Corbyn's leadership.[95][96] On social inequality, Starmer proposes "national wellbeing indicators" to measure the country's performance on health, inequality, homelessness, and the environment.[98] He has called for an "overhaul" of the UK's Universal Credit scheme.[99]

Starmer has advocated an end to "illegal wars" and a review of the United Kingdom's arms sales.[95] During his leadership campaign, he pledged to create a "Prevention of Military Intervention Act", which would only permit lawful military action with the support of the House of Commons.[100][101] Starmer stated in 2015 that he believed that the Iraq War was "not lawful under international law because there was no UN resolution expressly authorising it."[102]

Personal life

Starmer married Victoria Alexander, then a solicitor and later an occupational therapist,[5] in 2007. The couple's son and daughter are being brought up in the Jewish faith of their mother and the family attend shabbat dinners.[9][103] Starmer is a keen footballer, having played for Homerton Academicals, a north London amateur team,[104] and supports Premier League side Arsenal.[5]

His parents were very fond of donkeys,[104] running a small sanctuary for threatened animals in a seven-acre field, which he bought for them in 1996, behind their home near Oxted.[105] He is a vegetarian, believing that "it's better for yourself and for the environment".[106]

Awards and honours

The star given to those appointed Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath
Honorary degrees issued to Keir Starmer
Date School Degree
21 July 2011 University of Essex Doctor of University (D.U.)[115]
16 July 2012 University of Leeds Doctor of Laws (LL.D.)[116]
19 November 2013 University of East London Doctor of University (D.U.)[117]
19 December 2013 London School of Economics Doctor of Laws (LL.D.)[118][119]
14 July 2014 University of Reading Doctor of Laws (LL.D.)[120]
18 November 2014 University of Worcester Doctor of University (D.U.)[121]


Starmer is the author and editor of several books about criminal law and human rights:[1]

  • Justice in error, ed. by Clive Walker and Keir Starmer (London: Blackstone, 1993), ISBN 1-85431-234-0
  • Francesca Klug, Keir Starmer and Stuart Weir, The three pillars of liberty: political rights and freedoms in the United Kingdom (London: Routledge, 1996), ISBN 0-415-09641-3
  • Conor Foley and Keir Starmer, Signing up for human rights: the United Kingdom and international standards (London: Amnesty International United Kingdom, 1998), ISBN 1-873328-30-3
  • Miscarriages of justice: a review of justice in error, ed. by Clive Walker and Keir Starmer (London: Blackstone, 1999), ISBN 1-85431-687-7
  • Keir Starmer, European human rights law: the Human Rights Act 1998 and the European Convention on Human Rights (London: Legal Action Group, 1999), ISBN 0-905099-77-X
  • Keir Starmer, Michelle Strange, and Quincy Whitaker, with Anthony Jennings and Tim Owen, Criminal justice, police powers and human rights (London: Blackstone, 2001), ISBN 1-84174-138-8
  • Keir Starmer with Iain Byrne, Blackstone's human rights digest (London: Blackstone, 2001), ISBN 1-84174-153-1
  • Keir Starmer and Jane Gordon, A report on the policing of the Ardoyne parades 12 July 2004 (Belfast: Northern Ireland Policing Board, 2004)

See also


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Legal offices
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Ken Macdonald
Director of Public Prosecutions
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Parliament of the United Kingdom
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Member of Parliament
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Political offices
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Party political offices
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