Starmer says 'Prime Minister delayed until he was bullied into taking action' on betting row

Presenter Mishal Husain with Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak
-Credit: (Image: PA/BBC)

The Prime Minister delayed acting on the betting row - until he was bullied into taking action, says Sir Keir Starmer. The leader of the Labour Party and Rishi Sunak went head-to-head on the BBC night (Wednesday) in the last televised debate before next week's election.

The scandal surrounding political bets placed ahead of the July 4 contest was bound to feature heavily in the last major setpiece event before polling day. The first audience question in the BBC event was about how the leaders would restore trust in politics, with people “dismayed by the lack of integrity and honesty” amid the recent betting allegations.

Sir Keir laid the blame at the Prime Minister’s door, saying: “You have to lead from the front on issues like this.”

He linked the scandal to so-called partygate, when Mr Sunak was fined for busting lockdown rules.

Sir Keir said: “What I did, when one of my team was alleged to have been involved and investigated by the Gambling Commission, they were suspended within minutes, because I knew it made it really important to be swift. The Prime Minister delayed and delayed and delayed until eventually he was bullied into taking action.”

Mr Sunak responded: “It was important to me, that given the seriousness and the sensitivity of the matters at hand that they were dealt with properly, and that’s what I’ve done.”

The Prime Minister repeated that he was “frustrated” and “furious” about the affair. He hit back at the Labour leader by launching an attack on his tax plans, saying Sir Keir “is not being honest with everyone about his plans to raise their taxes”.

At least five Conservatives are being investigated by the Gambling Commission as part of its inquiry into wagers on the timing of the July 4 poll. In the latest twist of the saga, Tory candidate Sir Philip Davies reportedly bet against himself holding his marginal Shipley constituency, according to The Sun.

Mr Sunak on Tuesday caved to mounting calls to withdraw support for two parliamentary candidates facing an investigation by the regulator – his parliamentary aide Craig Williams and Laura Saunders. Ms Saunders’ husband, the Conservative Party ’s director of campaigning Tony Lee, has taken a leave of absence, as has Tory chief data officer Nick Mason, while Welsh Tory Senedd member Russell George is also facing a probe by the gambling watchdog.

Labour has also been dragged into the row, suspending candidate Kevin Craig after he was investigated by the regulator for betting on himself to lose his contest in Central Suffolk and North Ipswich. The sound of protesters shouting outside the Nottingham debate venue could be heard as the two leaders began speaking.

Host Mishal Hussain confirmed the demonstration was taking place.