UK’s Conservatives Withdraw Support from Candidates in Gambling Probe

Britain’s Conservative Party has withdrawn support from two parliamentary candidates who are being investigated over alleged bets placed on the timing of July’s national election.

The escalating scandal, a blow to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in the run-up to a July 4 vote his Conservatives are forecast to lose, has also embroiled the party’s campaign director and a London police officer.

“As a result of ongoing internal inquiries, we have concluded that we can no longer support Craig Williams or Laura Saunders as parliamentary candidates at the forthcoming general election,” a party spokesperson said on Tuesday.

Earlier in June, Williams, a close aide to Sunak, apologised for a “huge error of judgment” in placing a bet on when the election would happen.

Media then reported last week the country’s betting regulator, the Gambling Commission, was looking into allegations of improper betting by a second candidate, Saunders, and her husband Tony Lee, the party’s campaign director.

The party said at the time it had been contacted by the Commission “about a small number of individuals”. It also said Lee had taken a leave of absence from his role.

The Conservative spokesperson said the party had checked with the Gambling Commission to ensure its decision to withdraw support did not compromise its inquiries. The Commission has not named anyone in relation to its investigation.

British bookmakers allow bets on politics, and the timing of an election is a popular bet, but placing bets with insider knowledge is a crime.

The 44-year-old who took most MPs and voters by surprise when he announced the election date, has said he was “incredibly angry” to hear about the allegations.

The opposition Labour Party said it was a sign of Sunak’s “staggeringly weak leadership” that it had taken him so long to suspend the candidates.

“The Conservatives who sought to line their own pockets by betting on the election date are not fit to be candidates for parliament,” Labour’s Jonathan Ashworth said in a statement, demanding Sunak disclose the number of Conservatives who were implicated in the probe and name them.

Separately, London police said last week they had arrested a police officer working in a special protection unit over alleged bets made on the timing of the election.

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Comfort Samuel

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