Top Welsh Tory backs candidate suspended over bet

Craig Williams
Candidate Craig Williams was a close aide to Rishi Sunak in the last UK Parliament [Getty Images]

A senior Welsh Conservative has said he will continue to support a general election candidate suspended by the party over the ongoing betting scandal.

The Conservatives withdrew their support for Craig Williams on Tuesday.

During the BBC's election debate Prime Minister Rishi Sunak confirmed Mr Williams' suspension.

Mr Sunak said anyone who broke the rules should face the "full consequences" of the law and be "booted out" of the Conservative party.

Mr Williams, who is standing in Montgomeryshire and Glyndŵr, is under investigation by the Gambling Commission over a bet placed on the timing of the election.

However the President of the Welsh Conservatives, Glyn Davies, said he would do "everything I can" to make sure Mr Williams wins.

Earlier on Wednesday, it emerged that the Conservative Welsh Parliament member for Montgomeryshire will step back from a Senedd job after also being investigated over betting on the election's timing.

Russell George, the fifth Conservative facing inquiries from the Gambling Commission, is to temporarily leave his paid job as chairman of the Senedd's health committee.

General election candidate Craig Williams, who succeeded Glyn Davies as the MP for Montgomeryshire in 2019, was a close aide to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in the last parliament.

Earlier this month, it emerged he was under investigation over a bet placed on a July election three days before Mr Sunak announced that the UK would go to the polls next month.

On Tuesday the Conservative party announced that "as a result of ongoing internal enquiries" it could "no longer support" Mr Williams or its candidate in Bristol North West, Laura Saunders.

Responding to the decision in a video posted on X, Mr Williams said he had "committed an error of judgement, not an offence" and added that he wanted to "reiterate my apology" to voters.

Glyn Davies MP
Glyn Davies has known Craig Williams since the candidate was a teenager [BBC]

Because of the timing of the Conservatives' decision Mr Williams will still appear as the party's candidate on the ballot paper on 4 July, however if he is elected he will sit as an independent MP.

He also will be unable to draw on any party resources between now and the election.

However Mr Davies, who was an MP between 2010 and 2019, told BBC Wales Mr Williams was "a very, very honourable man".

"He's done a superb job as our member of parliament but I perfectly accept that he's made a mistake," he said.

"I shall carry on backing him for all it's worth."

Asked if he accepted that his position put him at odds with the wider party, Mr Davies said: "In situations like this you've got to ask yourself 'where do you stand on something', and that's obviously been a difficult issue for a lot of us to face up to.

"But I've thought about it for quite a long time and I've decided on the view I take."

Russell George
Russell George is also caught up in the betting scandal dominating the election [BBC]

Member of the Senedd (MS) for Montgomeryshire Russell George had already withdrawn from his frontbench spokesperson role as a shadow minister for mid Wales.

He has turned down a request from BBC Wales for an interview, but said he would co-operate fully with the Gambling Commission.

There have been calls for the politician - who remains a Tory MS - to be removed from the Welsh Conservative group in Cardiff Bay.

The BBC's political editor Chris Mason reported that Mr George’s bet, placed online for a July election, was placed more than a week before the election was called and neither man was aware of the other’s bet.

It is not known how much Mr George bet or what the odds were. Mr George and Mr Williams share a constituency office in Welshpool.

Mr George's standard Senedd salary of £72,057 was topped up with an additional salary of £14,636 for his work as chair of the health committee - coming to a total of £86,693.

The committee scrutinises the Welsh government's health policy, and any health legislation it puts through the Senedd.

'Unnecessary distraction'

On Tuesday, Mr George said in a statement: "Whilst I will cooperate fully with the Gambling Commission, it would not be appropriate to comment on this independent and confidential process.

"Doing so would only jeopardise and undermine the investigation. It is the Gambling Commission, not the media, that has the responsibility, powers and resources to properly investigate these matters and determine what, if any, action should be taken.

"I have stepped back from the shadow cabinet while the investigation is ongoing. I have done this as I do not wish to be an unnecessary distraction to their work."

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Also on Tuesday, Welsh Labour campaign chair Jessica Morden said: "It took Rishi Sunak almost two weeks to take action on one of his Conservative candidates. How long will it take Andrew RT Davies to suspend Russell George?"

Plaid's Mabon ap Gwynfor said: "You couldn't make this up. Hours after backing dropped candidate Craig Williams after another betting scandal, Russell George is found to have done the exact same thing.

"He should have the whip withdrawn from the Welsh Conservative Senedd group at once."

Reform's Oliver Lewis, who is standing in Montgomeryshire and Glyndŵr, claimed the Conservatives were suffering "institutional rot", adding: "We demand the Welsh Conservative whip be removed from Mr George pending conclusion of the investigation."

A spokesperson for the Welsh Liberal Democrats said: "Time and time again we have seen the Conservatives more in scandal while the issues facing the country get worse."

You can find a full list of candidates for the Montgomeryshire and Glyndŵr and Bristol North West constituencies on the BBC News website.