Election betting scandal as bad as partygate, says Michael Gove

Tory candidate for Bristol North West Laura Saunders, seen with her partner Tony Lee, the party director of campaigns
Tory candidate for Bristol North West Laura Saunders and partner Tony Lee, the party director of campaigns, are under investigation by the Gambling Commission - UGC/UNPIXS

The row over alleged betting by government insiders on the date of the general election before it became public has been as damaging for the Conservatives as partygate, Michael Gove has suggested.

Recalling how the investigation into parties at No 10 harmed Boris Johnson’s premiership, Mr Gove told The Sunday Times: “It looks like one rule for them and one rule for us – the perception that we operate outside the rules that we set for others. That was damaging at the time of partygate and is damaging here.”

Four figures with links to Rishi Sunak, the Prime Minister, are being looked into by the Gambling Commission, amid allegations they used insider knowledge to bet on a July election before it was announced.

Michael Gove
'If these allegations are true, it's very difficult to defend,' Michael Gove has said - Leon Neal/Getty

Mr Gove said: “You are, in effect, securing an advantage against other people who are betting entirely fairly and without that knowledge. So if these allegations are true, it’s very difficult to defend.”

But friends of a parliamentary candidate have claimed the commission has risked Tory reputations by going “rogue” in the election betting inquiry.

The commission is understood to be working through a list of names provided by bookmakers of people who made £200 or more betting on a July general election in the three weeks before it was made public.

Craig Williams, a senior aide to Mr Sunak who is also an MP candidate, is being investigated by the Gambling Commission after reporting betting £100 on the election date just before it was called.

He has apologised for having a “flutter” on the election.

Craig Williams has apologised for having a 'flutter' on the election
Craig Williams apologised for a reported £100 'flutter' on a July election date - UK Parliament/PA

Tony Lee, the Conservative Party director of campaigning, and Laura Saunders, his wife and a Tory candidate, are also both understood to be under investigation by the commission.

Both Mr Williams and Ms Saunders remain Tory candidates for the election.

It was reported on Saturday night that Nick Mason, the Conservative Party chief data officer, had also been told that he was part of the inquiry.

The Conservative Party confirmed to The Sunday Telegraph that Mr Mason had taken a leave of absence.

A police officer working in Mr Sunak’s close protection team has also been arrested as part of a separate investigation into bets placed on the timing of the election.

A friend of Ms Saunders told The Telegraph that the Gambling Commission had gone “rogue”.

They said that by confirming investigations are under way, but without giving any further detail, it leads to individuals’ reputations being unfairly tarnished.

“The commission should be saying at least when the bet was made. It might be something Laura had no influence over – like betting a fiver on a Tory majority six months ago.”

The ally went on to say that it is highly unlikely that Mr Lee would have known that Mr Sunak was planning to call a summer election.

They added: “Tony [Lee] has been totally cut out – Downing Street runs everything. He has an impressive sounding title but he wouldn’t have known about the snap election.”

In a statement, Ms Saunders’ solicitor said that she would be cooperating with the watchdog’s investigation.

The statement added: “It is inappropriate to conduct any investigation of this kind via the media, and doing so risks jeopardising the work of the Gambling Commission and the integrity of its investigation.”

A Conservative Party spokesman said: “We have been contacted by the Gambling Commission about a small number of individuals.

“As the commission is an independent body, it wouldn’t be proper to comment further until any process is concluded.”

A commission spokesman said: “The Gambling Commission regulates gambling in the interests of consumers and the wider public.

“Currently, the commission is investigating the possibility of offences concerning the date of the election.

“This is an ongoing investigation and the commission cannot provide any further details at this time.

“We are not confirming or denying the identity of any individuals involved in this investigation.”