Sunak refuses to say whether aide who bet on election date knew it would be in July

Rishi Sunak
Rishi Sunak says it would not be appropriate to comment as an independent inquiry is ongoing - Christopher Furlong/PA

Rishi Sunak was dragged into the scandal over his aide betting on a July election as he faced questions over whether he told him the planned date.

Craig Williams has apologised for placing a £100 bet on a July election three days before the Prime Minister announced it would take place on July 4.

On Thursday, Mr Sunak was asked specifically whether Mr Williams was in any key meetings on planning the election date.

However, the Prime Minister refused to answer and simply pointed to the independent inquiry by the Gambling Commission.

“It’s very disappointing news and you will have seen Craig Williams has said that it was a huge error of judgement,” he said.

“You’ll know that there’s an independent inquiry which is necessarily confidential and I’m sure you’ll understand that it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to comment while that inquiry is ongoing.”

Asked whether he felt personally let down by Mr Williams’ conduct, the Prime Minister said: “It is very disappointing. Craig Williams has said that it’s a huge error of judgement.

“Now there is an independent inquiry which is confidential and it’s important that that is allowed to continue. It’s not appropriate to say anything while that’s ongoing.”

Mr Sunak could be asked to provide information to the Gambling Commission about what Mr Williams knew about the election date as part of the inquiry.

Craig Williams confirmed in a statement he had "put a flutter on the general election some weeks ago"
Craig Williams confirmed in a statement he had 'put a flutter on the general election some weeks ago' - Matthew Horwood/Getty Images Europe

Mr Sunak was speaking at the summit of G7 leaders near Bari in southern Italy.

The Gambling Commission is dealing with the incident, according to Dyfed-Powys Police which said it was not a police matter:

A spokesman said: “Dyfed-Powys Police have not received any complaints in relation to this incident.

“We have established that no offences have been committed under the Representation of the People Act 1983 or the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000.

“Officers have liaised with the Gambling Commission who have confirmed they are dealing with this incident, and it does not require police involvement.

“The Gambling Commission has the powers to investigate and prosecute under the Gambling Act.”

Downing Street declined to comment on whether the Prime Minister would cooperate with the inquiry and whether he would be questioned.

‘Should have thought about how it looks’

It emerged on Wednesday that Mr Williams, Mr Sunak’s parliamentary private secretary, had taken out a 5-1 bet with Ladbrokes on the timing of the election.

The Tory, who is standing for re-election in Montgomeryshire and Glyndŵr, admitted on Wednesday to a “flutter” on one of his betting accounts and conceded: “I should have thought about how it looks.”

On Thursday he told the BBC: “I’ve clearly made a huge error of judgment, that’s for sure. And I apologise.”

Mr Williams has refused to say whether he placed the bet on the basis of insider information about when Mr Sunak was planning to hold the election.

“As I have said, I will not be expanding on that statement,” he said.

“I’m not expanding because it’s an independent process. The Gambling Commission is looking at it now.

“And all I can say was it was a huge error of judgment. A huge error of judgment and I won’t be adding to the statement I’ve already made.”

Lord Cameron, the foreign secretary, said Mr Williams had been “very foolish”.

Asked if he was happy for him to stand as a Conservative candidate, Lord Cameron said “yes” but qualified this by saying it was too late for the party to remove Mr Williams from ballot papers.

“He’s going to be investigated, and will have to face the consequences of that investigation,” Lord Cameron said.

David Cameron with Craig Williams in 2007
Mr Williams with Lord Cameron in 2007 - Phil Rees/Shutterstock

Professor Jon Tonge, who teaches British politics at the University of Liverpool, said: “One of the questions it raises is did he try to bet more with other accounts, because a £100 bet is probably the maximum that you could put on a bet like that, with a single bookmaker, before you start raising suspicions.

“I’m absolutely certain the Gambling Commission will want him to come clean about whether he placed any other bets on the same outcome.”

Prof Tonge added: “He [Williams] may claim that it was a hunch it wasn’t the product of any inside information. And it’s true that Rishi Sunak kept the election date very secret, and most Conservative MPs were taken completely off guard.

“If he knew the date he should probably have been alerting his fellow Conservative members, rather than making a quick bet with the bookies.

“I think it was very, very foolish because there was every chance of a bet like that leaking out. The optics of it are awful. He should have been more self-disciplined and not put it on.”

He said the bet was “potentially the political version of insider trading” if it could be proved Mr Williams knew of the date of the election. But he added: “It would be very difficult to prove unless there’s a communication trail that shows that he was in possession of the knowledge of the election date.”