Sunak: Tories found to have broken betting rules will be booted out of party

Rishi Sunak has said Tory figures who are found to have broken betting rules “should face the full force of the law” and will be “booted out” of the party.

The Prime Minister faced tough questions over the betting scandal that has hit his faltering General Election campaign on a BBC Question Time special, which also featured the leaders of Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the SNP.

With just two weeks until polling day, a string of people with links to the Conservative Party or No 10 are caught up in allegations about gambling on the timing of the July 4 contest.

A member of the audience asked Mr Sunak, to applause: “Aren’t these emerging allegations about betting on the election date the absolute epitome of the lack of ethics that we’ve had to tolerate from the Conservative Party for years and years?”

The Prime Minister replied: “Well like you, I was incredibly angry, incredibly angry to learn of these allegations.

“It’s a really serious matter. It’s right that they’re being investigated properly by the relevant law enforcement authorities, including as (host) Fiona (Bruce) said, a criminal investigation by the police.

“I want to be crystal clear that if anyone has broken the rules, they should face the full force of the law. And that’s what those investigations are there to do. And I hope that they do their work as quickly and as thoroughly as possible.”

Conservative candidate Laura Saunders earlier on Thursday said she “will be co-operating with the Gambling Commission” probe, while her husband, the Tories’ director of campaigning Tony Lee, took a leave of absence amid reports the couple were being investigated by the gambling regulator.

Sir Keir Starmer
Sir Keir Starmer defended his support of Jeremy Corbyn’s 2019 manifesto, despite recently comparing it to Rishi Sunak’s policy offering (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

News of the investigation into Bristol North West candidate Ms Saunders emerged after the arrest of one of the Prime Minister’s police protection officers and the previous revelation of a Gambling Commission investigation into his parliamentary aide Craig Williams over betting allegations.

Pressed on calls for the candidates’ suspension, Mr Sunak said the investigations are ongoing and the “integrity of that process must be respected”.

But, he added: “What I can tell you is if anyone is found to have broken the rules, not only should they face the full consequences of the law, I will make sure that they are booted out of the Conservative Party.”

Labour and the Lib Dems have urged the Tories to suspend both Ms Saunders and Mr Williams, who is standing in Montgomeryshire and Glyndwr.

The Lib Dems’ Munira Wilson said: “Rishi Sunak has gone from ducking D-Day to blundering on betting. If he was truly angry about this scandal these Conservative candidates would have been suspended.”

Labour’s national campaign coordinator Pat McFadden accused the Prime Minister of putting “his party before his country” as he asked whether Mr Sunak believed the candidates would make good MPs.

Concerns over political insiders profiting from the election date have added to Mr Sunak’s woes, as four major polls this week have predicted the worst Tory electoral result ever.

But the Prime Minister insisted he had chosen the “right moment” to call the election and that he was glad to have done so.

He was subjected to calls of “shame on you” from the Question Time audience after he said he would prioritise the UK’s security over the European Convention on Human Rights.

General Election campaign 2024
Calls of ‘shame on you’ could be heard during the Question Time closing credits (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

He said he was “prepared to do what it takes” to begin sending asylum seekers to Rwanda, adding that the country does not need a “foreign court” to issue instructions on border security.

Preceding the Prime Minister in the two-hour programme’s line-up was Sir Keir Starmer, who said Jeremy Corbyn would have been a better prime minister than Boris Johnson.

The Labour leader ducked a volley of questions over whether he truly believed his predecessor would make a “great” premier.

Host Fiona Bruce repeatedly challenged him over his one-time statement, with Sir Keir insisting: “It wasn’t a question that really arose because I didn’t think we were going to win the election.”

When Bruce asked for a “yes” or “no” answer to whether he meant it, there was laughter from the audience when he did not give one, instead saying that Mr Corbyn would have made a better prime minister than Mr Johnson.

Sir Ed Davey speaking during a BBC Question Time Leaders’ Special in York
Sir Ed Davey said it was difficult being in government with the Tories during the coalition years (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Lib Dem leader Sir Ed faced difficult questions about his record in the coalition years and as postal affairs minister during the Horizon scandal.

Challenged by a student over the Lib Dems abandoning their pledge to scrap tuition fees in the coalition government, he said: “I understand why your generation lost faith in us. It was a difficult government to be in.”

Sir Ed was also asked whether he was “proud” of his conduct as postal affairs minister under the coalition government between 2010 and 2012.

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SNP leader John Swinney said the Tory government had been a ‘total disaster and calamity’ (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Sir Ed said he made “two big mistakes during that time”, including failing to meet Alan Bates in 2010 – although he subsequently did agree to meet the campaigner – and not seeing through assurances given to him by the Post Office that Mr Bates’s assertions were not true.

Scotland’s First Minister and SNP leader John Swinney suggested he would prefer Sir Keir over Mr Sunak.

Asked which of the two main party leaders he would prefer to see in No 10, he said: “I think the Conservative Government has been a total disaster and a calamity. So it cannot be out of office quick enough in my view.

“I think it is an absolute certainty that the Labour Party will win the election in England, and I hope people in Scotland will recognise the importance of having strong SNP voices in the House of Commons who will argue for decisions to be made in Scotland for Scotland and will put the interests of people in Scotland first.”