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‘Incredibly angry’ UK PM Sunak vows to sack betting rule-breaking party workers

The allegations first emerged last week and have since intensified as Sunak’s close protection officer was arrested by the Metropolitan Police on suspicion of misconduct over placing an election bet.
Last Updated : 21 June 2024, 14:30 IST

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London: British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has admitted to being “incredibly angry” on learning about the allegations against some fellow Conservative Party colleagues betting on the date of the general election, scheduled for July 4. On Friday, he vowed to “boot out” any party workers found guilty of breaking rules around betting.

The embattled British Indian leader, who is trailing in all pre-election opinion polls in the lead up to what has been dubbed as a “punishment election” for the Tories, was pressed on the issue of a number of Tory candidates being investigated by the Gambling Commission for any breach of betting rules associated with insider knowledge.

The allegations first emerged last week and have since intensified as Sunak’s close protection officer was arrested by the Metropolitan Police on suspicion of misconduct over placing an election bet.

"What I will say is that if anyone is found to have broken the rules, they should face the full consequences of the law," Sunak told reporters, in response to questions over the issue dominating the headlines for the governing party.

"There are multiple investigations happening. It's right they're allowed to proceed. They're independent and necessarily confidential. There's also a criminal investigation and these are potentially criminal matters. If anyone is found to have broken the rules, they should not only face the full consequences of the law, but I will make sure they are booted out of the Conservative Party," he said.

While betting is legal in the UK, any bets placed with the advantage of insider information could fall within the purview of illegality. The issue was raised during a televised election special on BBC’s ‘Question Time’ on Thursday night, with Sunak replying: "I was incredibly angry to learn of these allegations. It is a really serious matter.

"I want to be crystal clear that if anyone has broken the rules, they should face the full force of the law." In the latest set of allegations, Bristol North West Tory candidate Laura Saunders and husband Tony Lee, the party’s director of campaigns, are being investigated by the gambling watchdog.

It comes a week after the Sunak’s close parliamentary aide, Craig Williams – the Tory candidate in Montgomeryshire and Glyndwr – was found to have placed a bet on the possible general election date days before it was officially announced by the Prime Minister on the steps of 10 Downing Street. At the time last month, it was considered a closely guarded secret as he had taken the nation by surprise with a summer election as opposed to the widely speculated September-October timeline.

Meanwhile, data from British gambling company Betfair shows a flurry of bets on a July election being placed on May 21, the day before Sunak called the election.

The Opposition Labour Party has been piling pressure on Sunak over the betting scandal, demanding the suspension of candidates under investigation. It comes at a time when the election odds are increasingly getting stacked against the Sunak-led Conservatives, including a blow from a former Tory minister publicly declaring plans to vote for Labour in the elections over his party’s broken climate pledges.

Chris Skidmore, a former energy minister, accused his party of siding with "climate deniers" to politicise the issue of energy transition away from fossil fuels.

The attack came as a new YouGov poll shows that Sunak is now less popular than some of the most embattled leaders in recent memory, including his former boss Boris Johnson in the wake of the partygate scandal and former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

While Sunak logged a 75 per cent unfavourability rating, Johnson at the depth of his unpopularity was at 72 per cent and Corbyn at 71 per cent before he stepped down after a disastrous general election for Labour in December 2019. At this late stage of the election campaign, Sunak is only ahead of his immediate predecessor, Liz Truss, who dipped to 80 per cent amid her disastrously short-lived stay at 10 Downing Street last year.

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Published 21 June 2024, 14:30 IST

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