UK PM Sunak withdraws party support from 2 candidates over betting scandal


London, Jun 25 (PTI) Adding to the turmoil for an embattled Rishi Sunak, the British Prime Minister on Tuesday decided to withdraw his party’s backing from two of his Conservative colleagues embroiled in a betting scandal over the date of the general election.
     The move comes just over a week before the July 4 polls after days of the row dominating the campaign headlines, with the Opposition demanding the suspension of those accused.
     A Conservative Party spokesperson confirmed that Tory candidates Craig Williams and Laura Saunders will no longer have the party’s backing to contest as MPs from Montgomeryshire and Glyndwr in Wales and Bristol North West in England respectively.
     “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,” a Conservative Party spokesperson said.
     “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,” the spokesperson said.
     Sunak had come under intense pressure to take action following the revelations over the past couple of weeks, including from some members of his own party.
     Saunders is the wife of the Tory director of campaigns, Tony Lee, and Williams a close parliamentary aide to the Prime Minister.
     Sunak had previously admitted being “incredibly angry” when the revelations that members of his close circle were embroiled in betting on the election date but insisted he did not want to interfere with the Gambling Commission’s independent probe. However, that position has now changed implying some evidence of impropriety.
     While betting is legal in the UK, any bets placed with the advantage of insider information could fall within the purview of illegality.
     When Sunak stepped out onto the steps of 10 Downing Street amid pouring rain on May 22 to announce July 4 as the date of the general election, he took the country by surprise with a summer election as opposed to the widely speculated September-October timeline.
     The date was therefore considered a very closely guarded secret, with only a handful of close party aides expected to have been in the know.
     Under Section 42 of the UK’s Gambling Act 2005, it is an offence to cheat at gambling or to do anything that allows someone else to cheat. It could come with a jail term attached if it leads to a prosecution.
     The Gambling Commission has only admitted “investigating the possibility of offences concerning the date of the election” and declined to provide any details on the “ongoing investigation.”
     “We are not confirming or denying the identity of any individuals involved in this investigation,” a spokesperson said.

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