UK's main parties ditch candidates over election betting probe

Britain’s general election 2019

By Muvija M

LONDON (Reuters) -Britain's two main political parties on Tuesday each withdrew support for candidates who are being investigated over bets relating to the upcoming general election, as a scandal that had been limited to the governing Conservatives spread further.

The allegations against Conservative candidates, the first of which came two weeks ago, have overshadowed Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's efforts to persuade the public to back him at a July 4 election which polls show he is on course to lose.

The Conservative Party on Tuesday pulled support from Craig Williams, a close aide to Sunak, and Laura Saunders due to alleged bets placed on the timing of the election.

Hours later, the Labour Party said it had suspended one of its candidates, Kevin Craig, after being told by the country's gambling regulator that it was investigating him over an alleged bet on the result in the area where he is standing for election.

"The Labour party upholds the highest standards for our parliamentary candidates, as the public rightly expects from any party hoping to serve, which is why we have acted immediately in this case," Labour said.

Labour had previously criticised Sunak for not suspending Conservative candidates as soon as their involvement in the regulator's investigation became known.

Craig said in a statement posted on X that he had bet on himself to lose, and had planned to give the winnings to charity.

"While I did not place this bet with any prior knowledge of the outcome, this was a huge mistake, for which I apologise unreservedly," he said.


Investigations into the two Conservative candidates, as well as two senior party officials and several police officers are reported to be focused on whether they had access to information about the date of the election before it was made public.

Sunak, who took most lawmakers and voters by surprise when he announced the election date, has said he was "incredibly angry" to hear about the allegations.

British bookmakers allow gambling on politics, and the timing of an election is a popular bet. But placing bets with insider knowledge is a crime. The Gambling Commission has not named anyone in relation to its investigation.

"As a result of ongoing internal enquiries, we have concluded that we can no longer support Craig Williams or Laura Saunders as parliamentary candidates at the forthcoming general election," a spokesperson for the Conservative Party said.

Williams, who had previously apologised, said in a video message on X on Tuesday: "I committed an error of judgement, not an offence."

"I'm fully cooperating with routine inquiries from the Gambling Commission and I intend to clear my name," he said.

A Conservative lawmaker in the Welsh parliament had also been contacted by the Gambling Commission and had stepped back from some duties, leader of the Welsh Conservatives Andrew RT Davies said in a statement.

Saunders could not be reached for comment.

Police said on Tuesday that they had received information from the Gambling Commission alleging that five more officers placed bets on the election date. Separately, a London police officer working in a special protection unit was arrested last week over alleged bets made on the timing of the election.

"The Gambling Commission continues to investigate these matters. The officers have not been arrested but the Met's Directorate of Professional Standards has been informed," London's Metropolitan Police said in a statement.

(Reporting by Sachin Ravikumar, Elizabeth Piper and Alistair Smout; Writing by Muvija M; Editing by William James, Alex Richardson, Mark Heinrich and Daniel Wallis)