The Conservative Party has withdrawn its support for two candidates who are being investigated over betting on the timing of the general election.

The Conservative election campaign has been plunged into crisis as two Tory candidates, two officials, and an officer from Rishi Sunak’s close protection team are being investigated by the Gambling Commission over the placing of bets on the timing of the election.

The prime minister had insisted he had to wait until the Gambling Commission’s inquiry had concluded to take any action but had faced pressure to suspend Craig Williams and Laura Saunders, the two Tory candidates.

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On Tuesday morning, the Conservative Party announced they were no longer being supported as Tory candidates.

They will still appear on ballot papers as Conservative candidates as it is too late to change them ahead of next Thursday’s vote but they will have no support for the rest of the campaign from the party and cannot call themselves Conservatives.

Whether they will remain as Conservatives after the election depends on the outcome of the Gambling Commission’s investigation.

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A Conservative Party spokesman said: “As a result of ongoing internal enquiries, we have concluded that we can no longer support Craig Williams or Laura Saunders as parliamentary candidates at the forthcoming general election.

“We have checked with the Gambling Commission that this decision does not compromise the investigation that they are conducting, which is rightly independent and ongoing.”

Sky News has contacted Ms Saunders, who was the Tory candidate for Bristol North West, and Mr Williams, the Tory candidate for Montgomeryshire and Glyndwr, for a comment.

The two officials under investigation both took a leave of absence last week when their names were revealed. They are Tony Lee, the Tory’s director of campaigns and husband of Ms Saunders, and Nick Mason, the party’s chief data officer – who has denied any wrongdoing.

Sky News understands many more people are being looked into as part of the investigation, and more police are being looked into to see if they are involved.

What is the law around gambling?

There are stricts rules around gambling, with the latest laws updated in 2005.

Section 42 of the Gambling Act 2005 deals with cheating and says a person commits an offence if they cheat at gambling or do “anything for the purpose of enabling or assisting another person to cheat at gambling”.

It adds: “It is immaterial whether a person who cheats improves his changes of winning anything, or wins anything.”

Cheating is defined as an “actual or attempted deception or interference in connection with the process by which gambling is conducted, or a real or virtual game, race or other event or process to which gambling relates”.

Someone found guilty of cheating at gambling can be imprisoned for a maximum of two years and/or fined, or six months in prison for a lesser offence.

Betting with insider knowledge is also not allowed as an MP, with the MPs’ code of conduct prohibiting members from “causing significant damage to the reputation and integrity of the house”.

Among those calling for Mr Sunak to suspend the candidates were fellow Conservatives Sir Robert Buckland, a former justice secretary; Tobias Ellwood, a former defence minister; Steve Baker, a current Northern Ireland minister; and Baroness Ruth Davidson, a former leader of the Scottish Conservatives.

Baroness Davidson, speaking on Sky News’ Electoral Dysfunction podcast, had said Mr Sunak should ignore the watchdog and suspend those being investigated.

She said: “The Gambling Commission are very, very clear about what you’re not allowed to say when somebody’s being investigated by the Gambling Commission.

“But I’m sorry, you’re the prime minister of a G7 nation in the middle of an election campaign when you’re fighting for your life.

“If the Gambling Commission want to shout at you for suspending somebody and saying that, just do it. That’s what leadership is.”

The Labour Party and Lib Dems had also called for the candidates to be suspended.

Labour shadow minister Jonathan Ashworth said the delay in suspending the candidates shows the Conservatives believe “it is one rule for them, and another for everyone else”.

“It is yet another example of Rishi Sunak’s staggeringly weak leadership that it has taken him nearly two weeks to see what was obvious to everyone else,” he added.

“The Conservatives who sought to line their own pockets by betting on the election date are not fit to be candidates for parliament.

“Rishi Sunak now needs to come clean with voters across the country and tell them exactly how many of his Conservatives are implicated and who they are.”

The other candidates for Bristol North West are:

Caroline Gooch, Lib Dems

Darren Jones, Labour

Scarlett O’Connor, Reform UK

Mary Page, Green Party

Ben Smith, SDP

The other candidates for Montgomeryshire and Glyndwr are:

Jeremy Brignell-Thorp, Green Party

Oliver Lewis, Reform Uk

Glyn Preston, Lib Dems

Elwyn Vaughan, Plaid Cymru

Steve Witherden, Labour

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