Tories Pull Support From Candidates in UK Vote Betting Probe

(Bloomberg) -- Rishi Sunak’s governing Conservative Party withdrew support from two candidates caught up in an investigation into bets placed on the timing of the UK’s general election before the prime minister called it.

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The Tories will no longer help Craig Williams — a close aide to Sunak who said he put a “flutter” on the election date — win re-election in the Welsh seat of Montgomeryshire. The party also withdrew support from Laura Saunders, who is standing in Bristol North West. Her husband, the Tory director of campaigning Tony Lee, has taken a “leave of absence,” the party said last week.

The announcement comes after days of criticism leveled against Sunak following revelations that the candidates as well as officials and a police officer in the premier’s close protection team are being probed over wagers placed on when the national vote would be held, in the run-up to Sunak announcing it on May 22. The Gambling Commission is probing the bets placed by officials, while the police officer has been arrested and is subject to a Metropolitan Police probe.

The expanding scandal — The Sunday Times at the weekend said the Gambling Commission is looking into hundreds of suspicious bets, as well as probing a fourth Tory — threatens to derail the Conservatives’ efforts to close a wide polling deficit behind Labour ahead of the July 4 ballot.

On Tuesday, the police issued a statement saying that while only one officer is under criminal investigation, the commission has passed on information alleging a further five placed bets about the election timing.

“It is yet another example of Rishi Sunak’s staggeringly weak leadership that it has taken him nearly two weeks to see what was obvious to everyone else,” said Labour’s Jonathan Ashworth.

Sunak had previously said he was “incredibly angry” at the gambling revelations but had stopped short of suspending the parliamentary candidates, citing the ongoing investigation.

With voters already casting postal ballots, the timing could hardly be worse for Sunak. Even Conservatives are drawing parallels with the so-called Partygate scandal, which derailed Boris Johnson’s premiership after revelations of rule-breaking parties in Downing Street during the pandemic became public.

“If it was one of my candidates, they’d be gone and their feet would not have even touched the floor,” Keir Starmer, who stands to replace Sunak as prime minister next week if the polls prove correct, said last week.

While the announcement means the Tories will no longer put resources behind the two candidates’ election bid, it’s too late to change their names on ballot papers, meaning they will still appear next to the Conservative Party logo. Moreover, it’s also too late for the Conservatives to install new candidates in those seats, meaning they’ll lose Tory-held Montgomeryshire, and won’t be able to challenge in the Bristol seat, where they came second in 2019.

“We have concluded that we can no longer support Craig Williams or Laura Saunders as parliamentary candidates at the forthcoming General Election,” the Conservatives said in a statement. “We have checked with the Gambling Commission that this decision does not compromise the investigation that they are conducting, which is rightly independent and ongoing.”

--With assistance from Alex Wickham.

(Updates with police statement in fifth paragraph.)

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