Rishi Sunak Under Pressure as Bets on Election Date by Tory Candidates Probed

(Bloomberg) -- Rishi Sunak faced a fresh blow to his campaign amid an official probe into allegations that Conservative party candidates placed bets on the date of the UK election shortly before the prime minister announced it.

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Craig Williams, a close parliamentary aide to Sunak, last week said he would fully cooperate with “some routine inquiries” after putting a “flutter” on the election “some weeks ago.” Another Tory candidate is also being investigated and a police officer working as part of Sunak’s close protection team has been arrested over alleged bets, the BBC reported.

The revelations are the latest setback for Sunak’s campaign for reelection on July 4, which instead looks like producing a Tory wipeout. The prime minister announced the early vote on May 22, surprising most Westminster observers, who had expected a general election in the autumn. On Thursday, Sunak’s cabinet colleague, Michael Gove, confirmed the probe into the three individuals, telling LBC that the allegations are “beyond embarrassing.”

“I was incredibly angry to learn of these allegations. It’s a really serious matter,” Sunak said on Thursday during a question-and-answer session for party leaders broadcast on the BBC. “I want to be crystal clear that if anyone has broken the rules they should face the full force of the law.”

The Gambling Commission told Bloomberg it was “investigating the possibility of offenses concerning the date of the election,” though wouldn’t comment on the identity of individuals involved. It said the probe is “ongoing” and that it couldn’t provide further details.

London’s Metropolitan Police said in a statement that the Gambling Commission contacted the force last week to say “they were investigating alleged bets made by a police constable from the Met’s Royalty and Specialist Protection Command, which were related to the timing of the general election.” The matter was referred to the Met’s Directorate of Professional Standards, which began its own investigation, and the officer concerned was arrested on Monday “on suspicion of misconduct in public office,” it said.

Sunak refused to say if why he hasn’t suspended the Tory candidates under investigation, but said that if they were found to have broken the rules, he would “make sure they are booted out of the Conservative Party.”

A succession of polls using seat-by-seat analysis suggest the Tories are heading toward a historic defeat, potentially their worst ever, with cabinet ministers including Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt, Defense Secretary Grant Shapps, Education Secretary Gillian Keegan — and even Sunak himself — at risk of losing their seats. The premier’s party is moving election campaign resources out of areas it no longer thinks are winnable, instead prioritizing shoring up support in areas that would normally be considered a Tory stronghold, Bloomberg reported on Thursday.

Both Labour Party leader Keir Starmer — who’s on track to become prime minister next month — and Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey called for an inquiry into the betting allegations.

“This candidate should be suspended and it’s very telling that Rishi Sunak has not already done that,” Starmer told reporters on a campaign visit in York on Thursday. “If it was one of my candidates, they’d be gone and their feet would not have even touched the floor.”

Labour’s campaign coordinator, Pat McFadden, wrote to the prime minister on Thursday to urge him to “gain a sense of urgency and decency about this matter, and do what is necessary both to establish how wide this scandal goes, and take immediate action against all those implicated. It will speak volumes if you choose to stay silent and do nothing instead.”

--With assistance from Alex Wickham.

(Updates with Sunak’s comment from fourth paragraph.)

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