General election: Tory former minister says public wants ‘robust action’ from government on betting scandal – UK politics live

The Conservative party is conducting its own investigation into allegations that candidates and officials bet on the date of the general election using inside information, Rishi Sunak said today.

Speaking to journalists, and responding to claims from the opposition, and from some of his own candidates (see 8.57am), that he should have responded more robustly to the allegations, Sunak said:

The Gambling Commission is independent of government – it’s independent of me.

I don’t have the details of their investigation, right? They don’t report to me, I don’t have the details, but what I can tell you is, in parallel we’ve been conducting our own internal inquiries and of course will act on any relevant findings or information from that and pass it on to the Gambling Commission.

The commission is reportedly investigating two candidates, Craig Williams and Laura Saunders, as well as Saunders’ husband Tony Lee, the Conservative party’s campaigns director, and Nick Mason, the party’s chief data officer, who has denied wrongdoing.

Sunak told journalists today that he was not aware of any other candidates being under investigation – although he also said that the commission did not talk about the people it was investigating.

Asked whether he had ever bet on politics himself while an MP, Sunak replied: “No.”

Nigel Farage has accused Boris Johnson of betrayal as the Reform UK leader vented his anger at the former Tory leader for describing his comments about Vladimir Putin as repugnant.

Farage mounted an unrepentant defence of his claims that Russia has been provoked into invading Ukraine as he addressed a couple of hundred Reform supporters from the top of a double decker bus.

Speaking at a rally outside Maidstone, Farage said:

Our leaders have no knowledge of history, no knowledge of Russian psychology.

The fact that I was more far sighted than the rest of our political leaders is not something that I am going to apologise for yet this has been turned into ‘Farage makes outrageous statement. Farage defends Putin.’

Farage said that he had been on the same page as the pope when it came to called for a peaceful route out of the conflict.

However, he reserved his greatest fury for Johnson, who hit out at Farage’s position on Putin at the weekend, describing Farage’s comments as “morally repugnant” and accusing him of “parroting Putin’s lies” about Ukraine.

To cheers, Farage said:

This man will go down as the worst prime minister of modern times, a man who betrayed an 80 seat majority. Who opened the door to mass immigration? Who betrayed the will of Brexit voters? It was Boris Johnson.

He appeared with a blown-up cover of a newspaper report of past comments by Johnson which led to the former Tory leader being branded as an apologist for Putin’s invasion. “If you want an example of EU policymaking on the hoof and EU pretensions to running defence policy that have caused real trouble, then look at what has happened in the Ukraine,’’ Johnson had said in a speech.

Here is a version Farage posted on X this morning.

In an interview yesterday Bridget Phillipson, the shadow education secretary, refused to confirm that a Labour government would implement the guidance on trans issues for schools in England published by the government at the end of last year. The guidance was controversial partly because it said pupils should not be taught what it described as “gender identity ideology”.

Asked about the issue today, Keir Starmer said Labour wanted the consultation on the guidance to continue. He said:

I think we need to complete the consultation process and make sure that there is guidance that is age appropriate. That is helpful for teachers and has at its heart the safeguarding of children.

But asked if he would rip up the ban on teaching children and young people about “gender ideology” at school, he replied:

No, I’m not in favour of ideology being taught in our schools on gender.

Rishi Sunak has rejected the Institute for Fiscal Studies’ claim that the Tory manifesto, like Labour’s, is ignoring some of the big challenges facing the UK. (See 11.37am.)

Asked if he accepted the IFS analysis, Sunak told reporters:

No, I don’t agree with that. We have a fully costed manifesto which can deliver tax cuts for people at every stage in their lives and that is largely funded by making sure that we can find some savings in the growth of the welfare budget, because it’s been growing at unsustainable levels since the pandemic.

We’ve set out a very clear plan to reform that, to support people into work. And in fact the IFS acknowledge that, last time around, they said that that wasn’t possible, that it was actually delivered, and that’s something that the IFS themselves have said.

Labour, in contrast, don’t think you can save a single penny from the welfare bill, which is already where we’re spending more than on transport, schools, law enforcement. I don’t think that’s right. I want to deliver tax cuts for people and constraining the increase in the welfare budget is the right way to do that to support people in work.

The strongest message to emerge from the Scottish Conservatives’ manifesto launch in Edinburgh was about beating the SNP and putting an end to “constitutional monomania”.

Rishi Sunak seemed to relieved to be turning his attention to a weakened opponent. He attacked the SNP for turning Scotland into “the high tax capital of the UK” and selling out farmers.

Of course, he also warned that pensions and the oil and gas industry “aren’t safe with Labour”, but this event was firmly focused on using the same campaigning strategy that has proved successful for the Tories in Scotland since 2014 – targeting the pro-union vote. He said:

This weekend we must send the nationalists the strongest message possible that the country wants to move on from their independence obsession …

Scotland wants politicians who concentrate on the priorities of the Scottish people and not constitutional monomania.

He warned that voting Reform UK in Scotland was “letting the nationalists off the hook. Don’t let your frustration allow the SNP to keep the constitutional debate going”. He went on:

If you want to beat the SNP and stand up for the UK then you have to vote Scottish Conservative.

Scottish leader Douglas Ross reiterated previous calls for what is essentially tactical voting, pointing out that in key target seats across Scotland a vote for any party other than the Tories would let the SNP win.

Ross said:

If the SNP do not just lose this election in Scotland but have a terrible result and are defeated right across the country – then we will have put the nationalists’ political obsession to rest for a generation.

The Conservative party is conducting its own investigation into allegations that candidates and officials bet on the date of the general election using inside information, Rishi Sunak said today.

Speaking to journalists, and responding to claims from the opposition, and from some of his own candidates (see 8.57am), that he should have responded more robustly to the allegations, Sunak said:

The Gambling Commission is independent of government – it’s independent of me.

I don’t have the details of their investigation, right? They don’t report to me, I don’t have the details, but what I can tell you is, in parallel we’ve been conducting our own internal inquiries and of course will act on any relevant findings or information from that and pass it on to the Gambling Commission.

The commission is reportedly investigating two candidates, Craig Williams and Laura Saunders, as well as Saunders’ husband Tony Lee, the Conservative party’s campaigns director, and Nick Mason, the party’s chief data officer, who has denied wrongdoing.

Sunak told journalists today that he was not aware of any other candidates being under investigation – although he also said that the commission did not talk about the people it was investigating.

Asked whether he had ever bet on politics himself while an MP, Sunak replied: “No.”

Keir Starmer said this morning it was “nonsense” for the Tories to suggest Labour is placing undue pressure on the Gambling Commission over the election date betting scandal. (See 10.10am.) Asked about the claim, Starmer told reporters:

That’s nonsense. The Gambling Commission is obviously looking at these cases and what we need is leadership from the prime minister – he should have suspended those candidates.

He hasn’t done it because he’s not showing leadership.

Gavin Robinson, the DUP leader, has urged against voting for smaller parties “who can’t win” as he launched his party’s manifesto, PA Media reports. PA says:

Robinson said his party is “campaigning for every vote” in the general election which will see some close races across Northern Ireland’s 18 constituencies.

He said that voting for smaller parties “risks helping to elect MPs who will take us in the wrong direction and who don’t believe in Northern Ireland”.

In recent history the DUP developed a strong working relationship with the Conservative government, brokering a confidence and supply deal in 2017.

However, Robinson dismissed speculation his party may have less influence in the event of a Labour government.

“We work with every government. We have worked and we will continue to work in the best interests of Northern Ireland,” he said.

“There are many who sometimes casually suggest that Labour is in some way pro-Irish nationalism … that is not true of this Labour party today that is standing across Great Britain on a pro-union ticket.

“The messages that you’ve heard from Hilary Benn as shadow secretary of state and Keir Starmer himself, who knows Northern Ireland, is not to upset the delicate balance that we have.

“I don’t have any strong concerns on that, but the DUP will love many, trust few, and always paddle our own canoe.”

The almost 50-page manifesto, titled Speaking Up For Northern Ireland, was launched at the Harland and Wolff Welders Football Club in the East Belfast constituency, where Robinson is a candidate.

The DUP is running 16 candidates for 18 available seats on the green benches in this general election. They returned eight MPs at the last election in 2019.

In his opening speech, Robinson said he wants his party to send “the strongest team to Westminster”.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies has repeatedly argued that the main parties are refusing to face up to the hard choices that the next government will have to make, particularly the fact that existing long-term government spending plans (which Labour and the Tories are both accepting as their baseline) imply serious cuts for services in unprotected areas. But Paul Johnson’s opening presentation at the IFS event this morning was particularly withering.

Democrats argue that election campaigns should provide an opportunity for a country to have a serious debate about the choices it faces for the future. But that is not happening, the IFS is saying. It suggests Britain is being cheated.

Johnson, director of the IFS, said the next government would have to choose between “higher taxes or worse public services” and the two main parties were not admitting this. He said:

Public services are visibly struggling. Despite these high tax levels, spending on many public services will likely need to be cut over the next five years if government debt is not to ratchet ever upwards or unless taxes are increased further.

How can that be? A £50bn a year increase in debt interest spending relative to forecasts and a growing welfare budget bear much of the responsibility. Then we have rising health spending, a defence budget which for the first time in decades will likely grow rather than shrink, and the reality of demographic change and the need to transition to net zero. Add in low growth and the after-effects of the pandemic and energy price crisis and you have a toxic mix indeed when it comes to the public finances.

These raw facts are largely ignored by the two main parties in their manifestos. That huge decisions over the size and shape of the state will need to be taken, that those decisions will, in all likelihood, mean either higher taxes or worse public services, you would not guess from reading their prospectuses or listening to their promises. They have singularly failed even to acknowledge some of the most important issues and choices to have faced us for a very 1 long time.

He said the manifesto plans from the Tories and Labour on tax, spending and benefits were very modest and “certainly don’t answer the big questions facing us over a five-year parliament”.

He said it was a mistake for the Conservatives and Labour to rule out many future tax increases. He said:

The manifestos told us much more about what they wouldn’t do than what they would. Tax locks – pledges not to increase specific taxes or tax rates – aren’t new. But this time, the parties have really gone to town. We’ve seen something of a tax lock arms race. Both have tied their hands on income tax, NICs, VAT and corporation tax. The Conservatives have a long list of other tax rises, and reforms, that they wouldn’t do. Labour have ruled out more tax options since the publication of the manifestos …

These tax locks are a mistake. They will constrain policy if a future government decides that it does in fact want to raise more money to fund public services. They also put serious constraints on tax reform – something which the Conservatives seem to have all but ruled out, and which is notable in the Labour manifesto by its absence.

He says Labour’s promise not to raise tax for “working people” was too vague to be meaningful. He said:

Taken at face value, Labour’s promise of “no tax increases on working people” rules out essentially all tax rises. There is no tax paid exclusively by those who don’t work. Who knows what this pledge is really supposed to mean.

He said the Lib Dem manifesto contained “some good ideas”, but that the party wrongly implied its tax rises would hit ordinary people.

He claimed the Reform UK and Green party manifestos, which contained plans to dramatically slash and increase respectively the level of state spending, were poisioning the political debate in the UK because they were raising unrealistic expectations. He said:

The way [Reform UK and the Greens] suggest that they have radical ideas which can realistically make a positive difference, when in fact what they propose is wholly unattainable, helps to poison the entire political debate.

Take Reform. They propose £90bn of specific tax cuts and £50bn of spending increases, “paid for” by a £150bn package of measures that includes substantial, unspecified cuts in welfare and government waste. If they want a smaller state – a perfectly reasonable ambition – they should tell us how they will achieve it. We saw the consequences of massive tax cuts with no detail on how they would be paid for in September 2022.

In any case, the claim that they could eliminate NHS waiting lists at a cost of £17bn a year is demonstrably wrong, while the vast tax cuts would cost even more than stated, by a margin of tens of billions of pounds per year.

On the other side, the Green party set out a vision for a much larger state …A large part is an additional £80bn a year of borrowing, to be constrained only by its effect on inflation. A massive increase in borrowing when the economy is capacity-constrained, and the debt interest burden is already just that, a huge burden, would have unpleasant consequences.

He said the two main parties were refusing to say who they would react if their economic plans did not work out as expected. He explained:

A key question to ask of those seeking our votes on 4 July is how would they respond to such bad economic news. Put taxes up by more? Deepen those cuts to spending? Or push back the date at which debt is forecast to fall? We have not been told. And a clear lesson of the last parliament is that bad shocks do happen. Is it so unreasonable for us to be given a hint of how they would prioritise before polling day?

After a passage in his speech attack Labour on familiar grounds, Rishi Sunak also hit out at Reform UK.

[Reform UK] are not on the side of who you think they are.

Reform are standing candidates here in Scotland that are pro independence and anti monarchy.

And you all heard what Nigel Farage said about Ukraine. That plays into Putin’s hands. That kind of appeasement is dangerous for Britain’s security, the security of our allies that rely on us and will only embolden Putin.

This echoes what Sunak was saying at the weekend, after the BBC broadcast Nick Robinson’s interview with Nigel Farage, the Reform UK leader, in which he said the eastward expansion of the EU and Nato provoked Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Rishi Sunak is speaking at the start of the Scottish Conservatives’ manifesto launch in Edinburgh.

He started by saying that if Douglas Ross, the Scottish Tory leader, had not “held the line” in 2021, at the last Holyrood elections, Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP would have got a majority, and the history of the UK would have been “very different”.

He seemed to be conceding that Sturgeon would have been entitled to hold an independence referendum which she would have won. That is not something the Conservative government at Westminster ever conceded at the time.

Sunak also said a vote for the Tories at this election would settle the matter for a generation. This is from Sky’s Rob Powell.

As Libby Brooks points out, the manifesto makes beating the SNP a priority.

Keir Starmer and Bridget Phillipson, the shadow education secretary, have been doing a Q&A with pupils at a school in Kettering. In his opening remarks, Starmer defended Labour’s plans to give the vote to 16 and 17-year-olds for all elections. They can already vote in devolved elections in Scotland and Wales, but they can’t vote in any English elections, or in any general elections.

The number of migrants arriving in the UK after crossing the Channel has hit a new record for the first six months of a calendar year, PA Media reports. PA says:

Home Office figures show 257 people made the journey in four boats on Sunday, taking the provisional total for the year so far to 12,901.

The previous record for arrivals in the six months from January to June was 12,747 in 2022. In the first half of 2023, arrivals stood at 11,433.

The 2024 total to date is 17% higher than the number of arrivals recorded this time last year (11,058) and up 8% on the same period in 2022 (11,975).

Last year a total of 29,437 migrants arrived in the UK after crossing the Channel, down 36% on a record 45,774 in 2022.

More than 3,000 arrivals have now been recorded since the general election was called on 22 May (3,019), with immigration a key campaign battleground.

The hard choices on tax and spending that will face Britain’s next government are being ducked by Labour and the Conservatives, leaving voters operating in a knowledge vacuum. the Institute for Fiscal Studies has said. Paul Johnson, director of the IFS, is speaking at an event now presening an IFS analysis of the various manifestos, but Larry Elliott has the story based on a text of his opening remarks sent out earlier under embargo. It’s here.

Chris Heaton-Harris, the Northern Ireland secretary, accused Labour this morning of trying to pressurise the Gambling Commission for party political advantage.

Referring to the open letter sent by Pat McFadden, Labour’s national campaign coordinator, to the commission saying it should name the people it is investigating, Heaton-Harris said:

The leader of Labour’s campaign Pat McFadden wrote to try and put some undue influence on the Gambling Commission over the weekend. I think that is actually pretty concerning in itself, Labour trying to lean on yet another independent body like it lent on the speaker of the House of Commons not to have a vote on Gaza.

But Wes Streeting, the shadow health secretary who was doing media interviews for Labour this morning, accused the Tories of using the commission to provide political cover from the ongoing election date betting scandal.

He complained about “the audacity of the Conservative party to hide behind the Gambling Commission” and went on:

I think people should greet with enormous suspicion, the fact that the Conservatives are trying to cover up in the middle of an election campaign, which of their candidates is under investigation for serious wrongdoing.

The Conservative party has declined to answer detailed questions about the allegations, such as how many of its candidates and officials are under investigation, what bets they placed and when they knew about the timing of the election, arguing it is not allowed to comment because the commission is carrying out its own investigation.

This morning the Times has splashed on a story about Labour’s plan to make it easier for trans people to get a gender recognition certificate (GRC), giving legal confirmation that they have changed gender. In her story Geraldine Scott says:

[Under current rules people wanting a GRC] are required to submit proof that they have changed genders, which can include official documents such as utility bills or passports, or even library cards or supermarket loyalty cards.

Officials insist on two years’ worth of documentation to ensure the person is prepared for a permanent change. However, The Times has learnt that Labour will ditch the requirement in an attempt to “remove indignities for trans people who deserve recognition and acceptance”.

Instead, transgender people will be required to undergo an effective cooling-off period for two years after their application for a GRC is submitted. A single doctor specialising in gender issues will be able to provide a medical report supporting the change to their new gender.

It has long been known that Labour plans to simplify the GRC process, but the issue is contentious because the Conservatives have attacked Labour relentless over its trans policy and at the weekend the author JK Rowling, a gender critical campaigner, said in an article in the Times that she would struggle to vote Labour because she thought Keir Starmer and others in the party were dismisive of women’s rights.

In an interview with Times Radio this morning Wes Streeting, the shadow health secretary, said that he felt “pretty depressed” reading Rowling’s article because it showed the party had more to do on this issue to rebuild trust with feminists. He also said the party should “engage seriously” with her arguments.

I have a lot of respect for JK Rowling both in terms of what she’s done for children and literacy but also the work that she’s done campaigning for women and in particular violence against women and girls.

I think that we’ve clearly got more work to do to rebuild trust with people that we’ve lost on this issue.

Streeting said that at times biological women felt excluded. He explained:

I think at times in pursuit of inclusion we’ve ended up in a position where women have felt excluded, biological women have felt excluded. And there are practical examples of this in terms of things like NHS language and documentation.

He added:

I think we can find a way through that both treats trans people with the dignity and respect that they deserve, and also treats women with the respect that they deserve, particularly protecting women’s spaces, women’s voices, and right to speak up.

So, when women like JK Rowling do speak up, I think it’s important we engage seriously with the arguments that she’s making, with the concerns that she has.

And also we listen to what trans people are saying about the everyday injustices and indignities that they’re experiencing too, whether that’s hate crime or poor provision in public services.

The Labour candidate Stella Creasy has said she will not be intimidated after a window and door of her office in north-east London was smashed by an attacker, Peter Walker reports.

The election date betting scandal first became public when it was reported that Craig Williams, who was Rishi Sunak’s parliamentary private secretary in the last parliament was being investigated over a bet he placed on a July election three days before the election was announced. He told the BBC that was a “huge error of judgment”.

In an interview this morning Chris Heaton-Harris, the Northern Ireland secretary, claimed the party did not know if Williams was acting on the basis of inside knowledge. He told LBC:

It needs to be determined whether or not [Williams] had prior knowledge …

He said he made a bet and that was a mistake. We don’t know and I don’t believe anybody does know, maybe the Gambling Commission do … but we don’t know whether he did that with prior knowledge or whether that was just a hunch or whatever.

Good morning. We’re at the start of the last full week of the general election campaign, and Rishi Sunak’s campaign, which has been calamity-struck since he announced it soaking wet in a downpour, is still embroiled in the election date betting scandal. Here is our overnight story by Eleni Courea and Matthew Weaver.

This morning Tobias Ellwood, the Tory former minister and candidate in Bournemouth East, said Sunak should be doing more to limit the damage to the party caused by the controversy. Asked if he thought Sunak should have suspended the two candidates who are being investigated by the Gambling Commission over alleged suspect bets, Ellwood replied:

Given the scale of this, as we see now, and the potential for the story to continue to eclipse, to overshadow, the election. I would now agree.

I’m not sure anyone, including the prime minister, could have predicted the number of people involved when the story first broke. The public wants to see clearer, robust action.

Ellwood acknowledged the party faced a problem. He said it was not clear if those people being investigated were “in the room when the [election date] decision was made”, in which case the party could take immediate action. But if they were just responding to Westminster rumours, then it was for the Gambling Commission to decide if they were in the wrong, he said.

But Ellwood said the government could go further to reassure the public. He went on:

Let’s introduce clear rules, as you have in the City in connection to the purchase of stocks and shares for example, let’s prevent any current politician or party professional from placing any bets in the future. That will send a clear message to the public that this sad incident is being taken seriously and it won’t happen again.

Ellwood also said the thought the scandal would cost the Conservative party seats. “I have no doubt about it,” he said.

In a subsequent interview on the Today programme, Chris Heaton-Harris, the Northern Ireland secretary who is standing down as an MP, was asked if he thought Sunak should have suspended the two candidates being investigated. He replied:

I think what you’re trying to suggest is that someone is guilty until they’re proven innocent and that is not how this works.

Here is the agenda for the day.

Morning: Ed Davey, the Lib Dem leader, is on a visit in south London.

9.20am: Keir Starmer and Bridget Phillipson, the shadow education secretary, are visiting a school in the East Midlands where they will be taking part in a Q&A

10am: Gavin Robinson launches the DUP’s manifesto in Belfast.

10am: The Institute for Fiscal Studies holds a briefing on the parties’ election manifestos.

Morning: Rishi Sunak launches the Scottish Conservatives election in Edinburgh with Douglas Ross, the Scottish Tory leader.

Lunchtime: Nigel Farage, the Reform UK leader, holds a rally in Maidstone.

12.30pm: Kemi Badenoch, the business secretary, takes part in a debate with Jonathan Reynolds, her Labour shadow, on Bloomberg TV.

5.30pm: Starmer and Sunak are interviewed back to back by Harry Cole, the paper’s political editor, and an audience of readers on Sun TV.

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Updated: Juni 24, 2024 — 8:45 am

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