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British Prime Minister Sunak says he’s ‘incredibly’ angry over election date betting accusations

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LONDON (AP) — British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said Thursday that anyone involved in using inside information to bet on the date of Britain’s July 4 national election should be expelled from his Conservative Party.

Sunak said on the BBC that he was “incredibly angry, incredibly angry” to learn of allegations that Conservative politicians betted on the election date, and that they “should face the full force of the law” if they were found to have broken the law.

“It’s right that they are being investigated properly by the relevant law enforcement authorities,” he said. “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.”

Two weeks ahead of the general election, it was an uncomfortable experience for Sunak, whose Conservative Party is trailing the main opposition Labour Party — by 20 points by many polls — ahead of the vote.

Earlier, asked about reports that the U.K.’s Gambling Commission was investigating a second Conservative candidate for placing a bet on the timing of the election, housing minister Michael Gove told the BBC that if people used inside information to bet, it would be “deeply wrong.”

“What I can’t do is sort of get too much into the detail of the case while an investigation is going on,″ Gove said. “But I can talk about the broad principle and you’re absolutely right, it’s reprehensible.”

Sunak announced on May 22 that parliamentary elections would be held on July 4. The date had been a closely guarded secret and many, even those in Sunak’s governing Conservative Party, were taken by surprise as a vote had been expected in the fall.

Under the United Kingdom’s electoral laws, the prime minister has the power to call the date within five years of the previous election. Many members of Sunak’s party have said that he called it too soon, as he had until January 2025 to call the balloting.

British media, including the PA news agency and the BBC, reported on Thursday that Tory candidate Laura Saunders, who is married to the Conservative Party’s director of campaigning, Tony Lee, is facing a commission investigation into alleged betting offences.

Saunders’ attorney, Nama Zarroug, of Astraea Linskills, said she would be co-operating with the commission investigation and that she had nothing further to add.

“It is inappropriate to conduct any investigation of this kind via the media, and doing so risks jeopardizing the work of the Gambling Commission and the integrity of its investigation,” the statement said.

“The publication of the BBC’s story is premature and is a clear infringement of Ms Saunders’ privacy rights. She is considering legal action against the BBC and any other publishers who infringe her privacy rights,” it added.

The Conservative Party said Britain’s Gambling Commission contacted it over a “small number of individuals″ in connection with the investigation.

The party declined to immediately comment on the fresh allegation pending the commission investigation. But it said in a statement that Lee took a leave of absence from the party on Wednesday.

The broadening scandal came after reports Wednesday that one of Sunak’s police bodyguards was arrested over alleged bets on the date of Britain’s national election made before it was announced. The constable in the Royalty and Specialist Protection Command was arrested Monday on suspicion of misconduct in public office, the Metropolitan Police force said.

Last week, Sunak aide Craig Williams, who is running to be reelected to Parliament, acknowledged he was being investigated by the Gambling Commission for placing a 100 pound ($128) bet on a July election before the date had been announced.

Betting is popular in the U.K., with bookies offering odds on everything from sports to elections. Cheating by acting on inside information is a criminal offense.


Associated Press writer Pan Pylas in London contributed to this report.

Associated Press