Douglas Ross adamant Tories can still win general election amid 'completely unacceptable' betting scandal

Three people with links to the Tories or Downing Street are now facing investigation

Douglas Ross has insisted the Conservatives can still win the general election despite some of his senior party colleagues all but admitting defeat, as he declared any candidates found to have used inside information to bet on the date of the general election should be sacked,

The Scottish Tory leader branded the growing scandal, in which two Tory candidates south of the Border have been accused of potentially putting bets on the general election date with inside knowledge, as “completely unacceptable”. But Mr Ross rejected claims of hypocrisy after refusing to back the accused of being suspended despite calling for former SNP health secretary Michael Matheson to resign amid his iPad expenses scandal.

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Conservative director of campaigning Tony Lee announced he would be taking a leave of absence – with just two weeks to go before polling day – amid reports both he and his would-be MP wife Laura Saunders are being investigated by the Gambling Commission.

Ms Saunders and Mr Lee are the latest people with links to the Tory party or No 10 caught up in allegations about betting on the date of the July 4 contest. An officer in Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s close protection detail has been arrested, while another candidate, Craig Williams, is also under investigation by the commission.

Speaking to journalists, Mr Ross stressed that the “serious allegations” needed to be “ fully looked-at”.

He said: “From what I have seen on the face of it, this is completely unacceptable and it must be looked at thoroughly. But the independent inquiry must be allowed to take its course and look at all the evidence.

“I think it is completely wrong that anyone has potentially used inside information to place a bet. There is no defence to that whatsoever. If anyone has used inside information, then there is no way they can continue. But there is a due process.”

Pressed over whether he was being hypocritical after calling for Mr Matheson to quit as an MSP over his iPad expenses scandal, Mr Ross said “the difference” was the Conservative claims are subject to “an independent process”.

He added: “There wasn’t an independent process from an outside body like the Gambling Commission.”

The outgoing Scottish Tory leader said “I don’t place bets” other than “the odd Grand National here and there”. He said: “I don’t fully know the processes people go through with this.”

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Asked whether the Tories could still win the election, Mr Ross said: “I’m getting out of there and fighting for every vote in my own seat of Aberdeen North and Moray East and seats right across Scotland.”

Asked the question a second time, having dodged it, Mr Ross again said he was “fighting for votes” and that there was a “clear choice between myself and the SNP candidates”.

Asked for a third time whether the Tories could win, Mr Ross said: “Yes, and I am getting out there to get as many votes as possible to elect Scottish Conservatives to represent their communities in the House of Commons.”

Several of Mr Ross’s Tory colleagues south of the Border have suggested the party is heading for defeat. Conservative Chancellor Jeremy Hunt has said the Tories are not pretending the party winning the general election is “the most likely outcome”.

Ms Saunders is married to Tony Lee, the Conservative Party’s director of campaigning, the BBC reported. She was the head of the international department at the Conservative Party, working with London embassies and the Tories’ sister parties overseas.

Ms Saunders had previously worked on organising campaign visits in the 2017 and 2019 elections.

The BBC reported that Mr Lee was taking a leave of absence from his role at Tory HQ, with just two weeks until polling day.

Senior Conservative Michael Gove said it would be “reprehensible” to use inside information to bet on the general election date.

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The housing secretary said: “If people have used inside information to place bets, that is 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.

“But I can talk about the broad principle and you’re absolutely right, it’s reprehensible.”

On the Tory campaign battle bus in London, Mr Gove told broadcasters: “Obviously, it doesn’t look great. And, obviously, the conclusions lots of people are drawing are not at all great. But I don’t know all the facts at the moment. I’d be loath to condemn without there being an investigation that’s been concluded.”

Mr Gove added: “The Gambling Commission are looking at Craig and also looking at Laura and we’ll see what the conclusions are.”

In response to the latest allegations about Bristol North West candidate Ms Saunders, a Conservative spokesman said: “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.”

The Gambling Commission said: “Currently the commission is investigating the possibility of offences concerning the date of the election. This is an ongoing investigation, and the commission cannot provide any further details at this time.”

Liberal Democrats deputy leader Daisy Cooper said: “Rishi Sunak must find his backbone and suspend Laura Saunders from the Conservative party whilst this investigation is ongoing.

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“It would be an utter disgrace if Conservative politicians were shown to be more focused on turning a quick buck rather than the needs of the country. The Conservative party has proven itself utterly unfit for office. Voters are sick to the back teeth of this endless carousel of chaos, sleaze and scandal.

People across the country are crying out for change and that is why in many areas they are backing the Liberal Democrats to get a strong local champion that will take their issues right to the heart of Parliament and not take them for granted any longer.”

It emerged last week that Mr Williams, who served as Mr Sunak’s parliamentary private secretary and is the Conservative candidate for Montgomeryshire and Glyndwr, was under investigation after he “put a flutter” on when the election would take place.

On Wednesday the Metropolitan Police said they were informed by the Gambling Commission that a police constable from the force’s Royalty and Specialist Protection Command was being investigated over the alleged bets.

The police officer, who has been removed from operational duties, was bailed pending further inquiries after they were taken into custody on Monday on suspicion of misconduct in a public office.

The matter has been referred to the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC), which said it will “make a decision on the level of IOPC involvement in due course”.

Mr Sunak previously said it was “very disappointing” that Mr Williams had allegedly placed a bet on the date of the General Election.

Mr Williams, who was the Tory MP for Montgomery until the election was called and is the party’s candidate for Montgomeryshire and Glyndwr, is alleged to have placed a £100 bet on a July polling day some three days before Mr Sunak named the date as July 4, at a Ladbrokes in his constituency.

He previously said he had clearly made a “huge error of judgment”, but refused to say whether he placed a bet on the basis of insider information.



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