Tories withdraw support for betting scandal candidates

Party bosses said they would no longer back Craig Williams and Laura Saunders
Party bosses said they would no longer back Craig Williams and Laura Saunders

The Conservatives have withdrawn support for two candidates amid a scandal over bets on the date of the general election.

Party bosses said they would no longer back Craig Williams and Laura Saunders after carrying out an internal inquiry into their actions.

Both are said to be under investigation by the Gambling Commission for allegedly placing wagers on when the snap election would be held.

They will still appear on the ballot paper as Conservatives because the legal deadline for registering candidates for the election has passed. If they were to win their seats, they would sit in the Commons as independents.

A Conservative spokesman said: “As a result of ongoing internal enquiries, we have concluded that we can no longer support Craig Williams or Laura Saunders as parliamentary candidates at the forthcoming general election.

“We have checked with the Gambling Commission that this decision does not compromise the investigation that they are conducting, which is rightly independent and ongoing.”

Mr Williams, a parliamentary aide to Rishi Sunak, admitted two weeks ago that he had a “flutter” on the election date. He had been reselected by the Tories to contest Montgomeryshire and Glyndwr, which he won in 2019.

According to an MRP poll by YouGov the Conservatives were set to hold the constituency, where they now effectively have no candidate.

Ms Saunders was selected to run in Bristol North West, currently held by Darren Jones, the shadow chief secretary to the Treasury.

She is married to Tony Lee, the Tories’ director of campaigning, who has taken a leave of absence as he is also being investigated over election betting. The withdrawal of support for her as a candidate will raise new questions over his future.

Nick Mason, the party’s head of data, is also on leave after it emerged on Sunday that he is being investigated over allegedly placing “dozens” of bets.

All four Tories who have been named in relation to the scandal deny any wrongdoing.

It comes after Labour hit out at Rishi Sunak for failing to suspend the two candidates over the claims. Sir Keir Starmer accused him of “a lack of leadership” after Downing Street initially refused to act against them.

In response the Tories argued they were unable to discuss the cases as doing so could jeopardise the independent Gambling Commission investigation.

On Monday, Mr Sunak revealed that Conservative HQ had begun its own internal inquiry into the actions of those involved, paving the way for the suspension of Mr Williams and Ms Saunders on Tuesday.

Asked by reporters about that decision during a campaign trip to west London, Sir Keir said: “Why didn’t he do that last week?”

Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow paymaster general, said: “It is yet another example of Rishi Sunak’s staggeringly weak leadership that it has taken him nearly two weeks to see what was obvious to everyone else. The Conservatives who sought to line their own pockets by betting on the election date are not fit to be candidates for Parliament.

“Rishi Sunak now needs to come clean with voters across the country and tell them exactly how many of his Conservatives are implicated and who they are.”

The election betting scandal has derailed the Tory campaign, amid claims that dozens of senior party figures are being looked at by the Gambling Commission.

At least 10 Cabinet ministers have been forced to deny placing a wager themselves, including Mr Sunak, who has said he is “incredibly angry”.

Speaking at an election debate on Monday night, the Prime Minister pledged that anyone found guilty of wrongdoing would be “booted out” of the party.

Labour has demanded that the Gambling Commission name all the Tories it is looking into, but the watchdog has rebuffed that request. The Telegraph has been told that, as well as senior Conservatives, six police officers are under investigation for placing bets on the election date.