Sir Keir Starmer has accused Rishi Sunak of being “bullied into action” over the election gambling scandal after a question over politicians’ “lack of integrity and honesty” in the final TV debate.

As the debate in Nottingham came to an end, Metropolitan Police released a statement saying it was taking on a “small number of cases” to assess whether some of those involved have committed misconduct in public office. The Gambling Commission will continue to probe alleged breaches of the Gambling Act, it said.

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The first audience member to grill the two leaders at the BBC debate said allegations of betting on the election have left many “dismayed”.

Sir Keir compared the scandal to ‘partygate’, saying: “You have to lead from the front on issues like this.

“When one of my team was alleged to have been involved and investigated by the Gambling Commission, they were suspended within minutes, because I knew it made it really important to be swift.

“The prime minister delayed and delayed and delayed until eventually he was bullied into taking action.”

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Mr Sunak responded: “It was important to me that given the seriousness and the sensitivity of the matters at hand that they were dealt with properly, and that’s what I’ve done.”

He added that he was “furious” and “frustrated” by the allegations.

Police responded to reports in The Sun that the force was taking over the entire investigation, saying: “The Met is not taking over the investigation into bets on the timing of the general election.

“The Gambling Commission will continue to lead the investigation into cases where the alleged offending is limited to breaches of the Gambling Act only.

“Met detectives will lead on investigating a small number of cases to assess whether the alleged offending goes beyond Gambling Act offences to include others, such as misconduct in public office. We will provide further information tomorrow.”

At least five Conservatives have been embroiled in the scandal, with two candidates suspended over betting, alongside one from Labour.

Wednesday’s debate was the last before voters go to the ballot box on 4 July. A Sky News snap poll suggests the public viewed their performance equally.

The first section was somewhat overshadowed by loud shouting from protesters outside the building.

Referencing the noise, presenter Mishal Husain said the protest, which was in support of the people of Gaza, was an example of “democracy” and people “expressing their freedom of speech”.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak repeated pleas to stop Labour “surrendering” the public’s finances and Britain’s borders over claims they will put up taxes if voted into Downing Street.

Sir Keir made several references to his experience as director of public prosecutions, suggesting it evidenced his ability to “smash the gangs”, reduce small boat crossings, and protect women’s spaces.

Asked about gender recognition certificates for transgender people, both men agreed single-sex spaces should be defined by “biological sex”. But Sir Keir said he wanted to “stop the business of always trying to divide people”.

On questions about getting people back to work, Mr Sunak put forward policies to tighten out-of-work benefits after 12 months.

Sir Keir said the answer is to reduce NHS waiting lists to ensure more people off long-term sick can re-enter the workforce.

One member of the audience accused the prime minister of being “fairly mediocre”, while also claiming Sir Keir is having his “strings pulled by senior members of the Labour Party”.

In response, the PM said he “understood” people’s frustrations – with the Tories – but also “with me” – imploring people to “think about what a Labour government would mean” for their finances and whether they can afford it.

Sir Keir referenced his working with the PSNI on the Good Friday agreement in Northern Ireland as head of the Crown Prosecution Service and his reform of the Labour Party as proof he keeps to his word.

But he added that “after 14 years of this” people feel “the hope has been beaten out of them”.

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