Rishi Sunak under Labour pressure for backing Tory candidates despite alleged election date bets

Bristol North West candidate Laura Saunders (Supplied)
Bristol North West candidate Laura Saunders (Supplied)

Rishi Sunak came under pressure on Thursday to sever links with two Tory candidates being looked into by the Gambling Commission who are under investigation for allegedly placing bets on the election timing ahead of his shock announcement that he was going for a vote on July 4.

It emerged that one of the Tories being looked into by the Gambling Commission — Bristol North West candidate Laura Saunders — previously worked at Conservative Campaign HQ (CCHQ) and is married to the party’s director of campaigns, Tony Lee.

The party said that since Wednesday, Mr Lee was now on a leave of absence, as the BBC reported that he too was being looked at under investigation along with his wife andCraig Williams, who served as the PM’s parliamentary private secretary and is the Tory candidate for Montgomeryshire and Glyndwr.

Despite the steps taken by the Gambling Commission, both Ms Saunders and Mr Williams remained officially endorsed by CCHQ as Tory candidates.

But the Met police have taken swift action against an officer working as part of the Prime Minister’s personal protection team after they also allegedly placed a bet on the timing of the general election. The officer has been arrested and suspended from operational duties.

In a letter to Mr Sunak, Labour’s campaign coordinator Pat McFadden contrasted the treatment of the Met officer with the blessing still given by CCHQ to the two candidates.

He said that given the officer had been removed from their duties, “surely you can understand that – yet again – this looks as though there is one rule for members of the Tory party, and another rule for everyone else”.

“If you can see how wrong that is, will you now at the very least remove your support for Mr Williams and Ms Saunders as Conservative election candidates?”

Demanding to know “how wide this scandal goes”, Mr McFadden referenced the Partygate scandal and the PM’s stated vow on entering No10 to bring “professionalism, integrity and accountability” to the job after the stormy tenures of Boris Johnson and Liz Truss.

“If some of your most senior colleagues felt they had carte blanche to misuse the inside information they had on the election in order to make a profit, we must ask how many others had advance access to the same information, and placed bets either by themselves, or through their friends and family?”

Liberal Democrat deputy leader Daisy Cooper said: “It would be an utter disgrace if Conservative politicians were shown to be more focused on turning a quick buck rather than the needs of the country.”Housing Secretary Michael Gove, who is stepping down from the Commons, said that any betting on insider information was “reprehensible” but that he himself was out of the loop when Mr Sunak astonished the country — and many Tory MPs — by calling the summer election.

“You could have knocked me down with a feather,” Mr Gove said on BBC Breakfast, while insisting on LBC that the whole Tory party should not be tarred by the alleged “naughty” misdeeds of any individuals.

Mr Sunak had previously said it was “very disappointing” that former MP Mr Williams had allegedly placed a bet on the date of the election.

Mr Williams has acknowledged making a “huge error of judgment” and said he would “fully co-operate” with the Gambling Commission’s inquiry.

Ms Saunders was approached for comment. A Conservative spokesman said: “We have been contacted by the Gambling Commission about a small number of individuals.”

The commission said it could not comment further on an ongoing investigation.

After a tricky phone-in with LBC listeners on Wednesday, Mr Sunak was due to appear on BBC Question Time from 8pm on Thursday along with three other party leaders.