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What we know so far about U.K. Tories and election gambling allegations

Click to play video: 'What we know so far about U.K. Tories and election gambling allegations'
What we know so far about U.K. Tories and election gambling allegations
U.K. voters head to the poll on July 4th and trouble appears to be mounting for the Conservatives over gambling allegations. Global's Nathaniel Dove explains why candidates and a campaign official are under investigation, how it could affect the election and what the regulations are in Canada – Jun 20, 2024

The United Kingdom’s gambling watchdog is investigating candidates from that country’s Conservative Party as well as the party’s campaign chief and a bodyguard for British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak over allegations they bet on the upcoming British election.

The news comes just weeks before voters head to the polls.

The scandal unfolded quickly and resulted in the campaign chief stepping down on Thursday. But experts say the loss of the campaign chief won’t likely affect the party’s chances at the ballot box because polls show the Tories lagging far behind the opposition Labour Party.

So what is going on — and with a Canadian federal election required no later than October 2025, are there laws in place to handle any similar situation here?

Click to play video: 'British PM Sunak addresses election betting allegations: ‘Incredibly angry’'
British PM Sunak addresses election betting allegations: ‘Incredibly angry’

What we know so far

Last week U.K. Conservative candidate Craig Williams, a close aide to Sunak, posted a statement to X saying he placed a bet on the timing of the election “some weeks ago” and later apologized.

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The Metropolitan Police announced Wednesday that they arrested an officer for allegedly betting on the date the election would take place.

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The Gambling Commission is also investigating Laura Saunders, another U.K. Conservative candidate, as well as her husband, party campaign chief Tony Lee, for allegedly making similar bets, per British media reports.

The U.K. Conservative Party did not respond to Global News’ request for comment but told Reuters Lee has taken a leave of absence.

“We have been contacted by the Gambling Commission about a small number of individuals. As the Gambling Commission is an independent body, it wouldn’t be proper to comment further, until any process is concluded,” a spokesperson for the party told Reuters.

A Gambling Commission spokesperson said in a statement to Global News that it is “investigating the possibility of offences concerning the date of the election.” The statement said they would not confirm or deny the identities of those it is investigating.

Why is the alleged betting raising concerns?

It is legal to bet on election outcomes and timing in the U.K. — but it is a crime to do so with insider knowledge.

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Experts told Global News the investigations further hurt the party’s already slim chances – especially because it comes after a series of scandals and criticisms for U.K. Conservative prime ministers, from Boris Johnson’s staff having parties while the rest of the country was locked down during the COVID-19 pandemic to Sunak leaving a D-Day ceremony early.

“It looks like the Labour Party in Britain will get a very significant majority,” Toronto Metropolitan University Prof. Catherine Ellis said, citing polling numbers.

“They need at least 326 seats for a majority. And at the moment, the polls are suggesting that they’ll get about 400, maybe a little bit over 400 seats in the House of Commons.”

Click to play video: '‘I apologize unreservedly’: British PM Sunak acknowledges ‘mistake’ of leaving D-Day events early'
‘I apologize unreservedly’: British PM Sunak acknowledges ‘mistake’ of leaving D-Day events early

She said British voters, more so than Canadians, vote parties into power and not just out of government. But there are concerns about the impact the matter could have on voter trust in public officials, which has been declining for years.

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“We’ve had kind of a trail of events in the Conservative Party in particular – and this is not a Conservative Party-isolated problem … that have further weakened the population’s trust in our politicians,” said Thom Oliver, a senior politics lecturer at the University of the West of England.

“There’s talk of kind of various Tory donors removing some of their funds from campaigning,” he said, speaking from near Bristol in the U.K.

Elections Canada told Global News that Canadian federal election legislation “does not speak to gambling or gaming/betting.”

The office of the ethics commissioner said in a statement that the Conflict of Interest Code for Members of the House of Commons applies to MPs, while the Interest Act applies to people appointed by the governor-in-council, including ministers, parliamentary secretaries, ministerial staff and senior public servants.

“The purpose of these regimes is to ensure that Members and public office holders do not use their positions to further their private, largely financial, interests or the private interests of their relatives (and friends, in the case of the Act) or to improperly further the private interests of anyone else,” the statement said.

A federal election must be called no later than October 2025 under Canada’s fixed election date laws.

–with files from Reuters

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