UK general election live: at least seven police officers under investigation over bets on timing of general election, says Metropolitan police

The number of Metropolitan police officers under investigation over bets on the timing of the general election has risen to at least seven, the force has said.

On Tuesday the Met said six officers were being investigated – of whom one was the close protection officer who was arrested. The other five, who were not close protection officers, had not been arrested, but were being investigated by the Gambling Commission, it said.

Steve Baker, the Northern Ireland minister, will stand for next Tory leader if he remains an MP after the election, HuffPost UK reports.

In his story, Kevin Schofield says Baker dropped hints about standing in a speech last month. Baker also told the website:

It’s a fact my colleagues sent for me four times to provide leadership through crisis to success: before and after the referendum, in Covid and in relation to the cost of Net Zero. I’m widely expected to lose my seat. We will see.

Baker is seeking re-election in Wycombe, where he had a majority of just 4,214 in 2019. According to the latest YouGov MRP poll, Labour is on course to win the seat easily, beating Baker by 42% to 22%.

Baker spent the first few days of the election campaign on holiday in Greece.

Rishi Sunak has declined to say whether he told Craig Williams, his parliamentary aide, in advance about his decision to hold the general election in July.

Williams placed a bet on July three days before the surprise announcement. He has now been disowned by the Tories as a candidate, and is being investigated by the Gambling Commission. He says he made an error of judgment, but he claims he did not commit an offence.

During a visit to Derbyshire, asked repeatedly if he told Williams in advance about the election date, Sunak said he could not answer because he might compromise the inquiry.

When it was put to him that he would not prejudice the inquiry by answering the question, he replied:

No, it’s absolutely not right when there are ongoing independent investigations that those are compromised in any way shape or form … They are rightly confidential and it’s important that they stay that way.

Sunak also said he was “not aware” of any Tory candidates or party officials being investigated beyond those already in the public domain.

As Aletha Adu reports, Labour activists have been told to scale back their campaigning in Clacton, where the Reform UK leader Nigel Farage is trying to get elected, because party HQ regards it as an unwinnable seat for the party.

Keir Starmer did no deny the story when asked about it today. He said Labour was still fighting in the constituency – but he did not deny that party HQ decided where activists were most needed. He said:

The chief of operations tells people where we most want them to go and fight, but we have got to fight in Clacton, of course we have.

We have got an excellent candidate there, he actually works for me, he is fantastic, so I’m very supportive of him and the campaign that he is running, and he is doing something incredible in Clacton which is being that positive candidate in difficult circumstances.

Yesterday Sabina Akhtar, deputy leader of Tower Hamlets’ Labour group, resigned from the party over what she described as comments from Keir Starmer that were offensive to the Bangladeshi community.

She was referring to Starmer talking about how Labour would remove people not entitled to be in the UK. At the Q&A with Sun TV on Monday, Starmer said it was important to return people if they arrived in the UK irregularly and did not qualify for asylum. He then cited Bangladeshis as examples of the people he had in mind, saying:

At the moment people coming from countries like Bangladesh are not being removed because they’re not being processed.

Starmer was making a point about the government’s decision to stop processing asylum claims from people who have arrived in the UK in small boats – an issue that also came up in last night’s TV debate. (See 2.03pm.)

But the comment to Sun TV alarmed Labour members of the Bangladeshi community. Apsana Begum, who is seeking re-electing in Poplar and Limehouse, posted a message on X saying she would “never stand by and let migrant communities be scapegoated”. And Rushanara Ali, who is seeking re-election in Bethnal Green and Stepney, said she had been in touch with Starmer’s office to discuss the “considerable concern and upset” his comment caused.

Today Starmer says he did not intend to cause offence. He said Bangladeshis had made a massive contribution to the UK and “that’s why there’s always been a longstanding and strong relationship between Labour and the Bangladeshi community here”. He went on:

It’s why my first trip as a Labour MP was to Bangladesh, where I saw for myself the strength of the country, the hospitality and warmth of the country. I’ve got many Bangladeshi constituents in my own constituency who I’ve been working with for many years, and I want to build on that in government.

The reference in the debate the other day was an example of a country that is considered safe as far as asylum is concerned, and one of the countries that’s actually got a returns agreement with us, and that is actually a good thing where both we and Bangladesh can be proud of … I certainly wasn’t intending to cause any concern or offence to any Bangladeshi community here.

Keir Starmer has dismissed Rishi Sunak’s claim in the BBC debate last night that he would “sit down with the Ayatollahs” to get a migrant returns agreement with Iran.

Sunak was arguing that if was unrealistic for Labour saying that it could deal with people who don’t qualify for asylum by saying they would negotiate returns agreements allowing them to be deported, because that would involve dealing with countries like Iran, Syria and Afghanistan.

Speaking to reporters today, Starmer said that Sunak had no answer himself as to what would happen to people in this cohort. He explained:

Even if the Rwanda scheme is up and running with a few hundred flights every year, it will take literally hundreds of years to remove people to Rwanda.

Starmer also said that the Tory policy of not even processing asylum applications from these people made no sense. And he said Labour would of course not be returning people to countries like Afghanistan. He said:

Of course there will be countries, Afghanistan is an example, where you can’t return people. They’re not going to be returned to Afghanistan. But what we can’t do is stay with this absurd situation where there’s just a growing and growing number.

In practice, Labour’s plan to process asylum claims from people who have arrived in the UK by small boats recently (and who the Tories are banning from claiming asylum) would probably lead to most of the arrivals from Iran, Syrian and Afghanistan being granted asylum. But this was not an argument that Starmer wanted to make in the debate last night, which led to him being on the back foot when questioned by Sunak.

The last FMQs before the Scottish parliament’s summer recess – and the final outing for Douglas Ross as Scottish Conservative leader – was little more than an opportunity for the parties to rehearse their election campaign lines, despite the focus supposedly being on Holyrood matters.

Ross – who was immediately told off by the presiding officer for describing SNP members as “clapping seals” – said that independence was “the only thing that mattered” to John Swinney, and that voters had other priorities; Ross referred to new figures showing delayed discharge is at a record high.

Swinney blamed 14 years of austerity, and said that the Institute for Fiscal Studies had highlighted a “conspiracy of silence” about the funding of public services.

Labour leader Anas Sarwar also attacked the Scottish government for NHS failings – waiting times in particular – while Scottish Lib Dem leader Alex Cole-Hamilton went on GP waiting times and cuts of mental health funding.

Swinney told Sarwar he wanted an “honest conversation” about the financial support required for the NHS – and Sarwar said he looked forward to having just that on the SNP’s health record ahead of the 2026 Holyrood elections.

New polling out this morning suggests the gap between Labour and the SNP has narrowed but that, because of the concentration of Labour support in the central belt, the nationalists should still expect heavy losses.

As PA Media reports, a Savanta poll has Labour and the SNP both on 34% – but with analysis suggesting this could lead to Labour winning 28 seats (up from 1 in 2019), and the SNP just 18 (down from 48 at the last election).

And a Survation poll has Labour on 37%, with the SNP on 31%. That would give Labour 31 MPs and the SNP 17, modelling suggests.

Keir Starmer has dismissed the Tory election ad saying people should not “surrender” to Labour, and depicting a family with their hands up, as “really desperate stuff”. (See 11.17am.) Speaking to reporters today, he went on:

And I’m surprised by it. I think it underlines the difference between the two campaigns.

Now, they’re running a very negative campaign, nothing about the future of the country. I’m very happy to be the candidate going into the final week because putting forward a positive case for the change that country needs.

Nigel Farage, the Reform UK leader, has announced that the businessman and former Newcastle United owner Sir John Hall is backing his party.

In the past Hall has given more than £500,000 to the Conservative party. But today he told ITV Tyne Tees that the party no longer represented his views. He said:

I’m a disillusioned Conservative. I just feel in these latter years they’ve let me down.

Hall said he liked Reform UK because they would “fight for my English rights and customs”. He said he would not be joining the party, but he would be donating to it.

Speaking in a rally in County Durham, Farage said that Hall had been an “amazing success story” and that he was backing Reform UK after decades of supporting the Tories.

Before the rally started, Farage posted this on X to illustrate the size of the crowd.

Labour’s shadow business secretary Jonathan Reynolds has said the party wants to run a government, not a Netflix series, as he defended the party’s decision to run a relatively surprise-free election campaign.

Reynolds said Labour’s offer of stability and predictable policy would be valuable for businesses, in a speech today to industry leaders at the British Chambers of Commerce.

Labour has retained a formidable poll lead over the Conservatives, but has also rowed back on some of its more ambitious proposals –notably on green investment. That has led to some activists complaining the party has not been radical enough.

Unlike the Conservatives, Labour has also largely avoided making surprise policy announcements. Mostly it has focused on promoting policies agreed and announced well before the campaign started.

This has prompted some political pundits to describe the campaign as boring.

But Reynolds said:

I’m told by some commentators, they don’t think Labour’s campaign is exciting enough. Look, my friends, we’re not pitching you a new Netflix series, you know, we’re not putting on politics as entertainment.

We want a return to serious government, to effective policy, and to politics of public service, not as pantomime.

Nigel Farage, the Reform UK leader, is speaking at a rally in Durham. There is a live feed here.

Last night the Metropolitan police said that, although the Gambling Commission was investigating most of the suspect election date bets, it was involved in cases where the offending could go beyond the Gambling Act to include offences such as misconduct in public office. The Met has also said seven of its officers are now being investigated.

This morning Keir Starmer said this showed why Rishi Sunak should have acted earlier. He said:

This latest development highlights 1) how serious this is, 2) that the prime minister should have acted swiftly at the beginning and showed leadership rather than being bullied into taking action, and 3) the wider choice that is now there at the election between carrying on with this sort of behaviour – we’ve seen far too much of this sort of bending the rules – we’ve got to stop that, turn the page and usher in a reset for politics and for our country.

Rishi Sunak is speaking at an election event in Derbyshire, and he is restating is claim that a vote for Labour would be a “blank cheque” because Keir Starmer is not saying what he would do in government. He says Starmer has “no answers” on immigration, and Labour won’t match the Tory pledge to increase defence spending to 2.5% of GDP. He says Labour “will whack up your taxes”.

 

Updated: Juni 27, 2024 — 10:50 am

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