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UK PM Sunak ‘angry’ after party figures ensnared in election betting scandal

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said Thursday he was “incredibly angry” after more Conservative Party figures were put under investigation over alleged bets placed on the UK general election date.

Facing questions on the growing scandal from an audience of voters on live television, the beleaguered leader said any election candidates or officials found to have broken rules would be kicked out of the party.

His comments came hours after the Conservatives’ campaign director stepped aside following reports that he and his wife, a Tory candidate in the July 4 election, were under investigation by betting regulators, AFP reports.

Last week, another would-be MP, Craig Williams, who was a Sunak ministerial aide, was also being probed for staking œ100 ($127) on the date before it was called.

London police said Wednesday that one of the prime minister’s police security detail had been arrested for allegedly placing a bet on the date.

“I was incredibly angry… to learn of these allegations,” Sunak said of the cases involving his party officials.

“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,” he added.

– ‘Astonishing’ –

The Conservatives confirmed earlier that campaign director Tony Lee had started “a leave of absence” and that the Gambling Commission was looking into “a number of individuals”.

The regulator did not name individuals but the BBC reported that Lee and his election candidate wife Laura Saunders were under investigation.

Her lawyers said she would “be co-operating with the Gambling Commission” and claimed the report infringed her privacy rights.

The commission had already said it was looking at the claims regarding Williams.

Political bets are allowed in the UK, including on the date of elections, but using insider knowledge to do so is against the law.

The inquiries heap further misery on Sunak, whose party has trailed Labour by about 20 points in the polls for nearly two years, making it odds on to be dumped out of office after 14 years.

Labour’s campaign co-ordinator Pat McFadden wrote to Sunak arguing the claims showed “a pattern of behaviour” by the Tories focused on making “a quick profit”.

Opposition Labour leader Keir Starmer, tipped to become prime minister, has urged Sunak to withdraw support for those allegedly involved.

“It’s astonishing that we’re in this place… Rishi Sunak just needs to take action. He needs to account for exactly who knew what,” he said.

But at Thursday’s debate, Sunak insisted it was “right” that the probes were conducted “thoroughly” and “confidentially” before anyone is sanctioned.

“The integrity of that process should be respected,” he said.

– Wipe-out? –

Sunak announced the date of the election on May 22, in a rain-soaked statement outside Downing Street, taking his own party by surprise as he still had six months to call a vote.

Critics lambasted him for not using an umbrella and the campaign has hardly shifted the dial in his favour since, even with indications the British economy has turned a corner.

This week, he was ignored by a flock of sheep as he tried to feed them in southwest England while his personal ratings suffered after he left early from a D-Day 80th anniversary commemoration event.

Two polls published on Wednesday predicted a record win for Labour, eclipsing even the landslide victory for Labour’s Tony Blair in 1997.

Pollsters YouGov said the Conservatives could slump to their “lowest seat tally in the party’s almost 200-year history”.

Sunak could even become the first sitting prime minister to lose his own seat, according to a Savanta survey.

London police said a member of the Royalty and Specialist Protection Command, was held on Monday on suspicion of misconduct in a public office, then released on bail.

The allegations against Williams came to light last week. He is alleged to have placed a bet on a July date for the election three days before Sunak called the vote.