A Yorkshire MP has denied attempting to “blackmail” the Government over stalled reforms to betting machines dubbed the ‘crack cocaine of gambling’ which led to the resignation of a widely respected Minister.
Tracey Crouch, the Minister for Sport as well as Loneliness, yesterday quit the Government after Chancellor Philip Hammond announced in the Budget that a reduction in the maximum stake on fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs) from £100 to £2 would not be introduced until next October.
In her resignation letter, Ms Crouch claimed Ministers had delayed the introduction from April “due to commitments made by others to those with registered interests”.
The comments prompted campaigners to accuse Tory MP Philip Davies, whose register of interests shows thousands of pounds-worth of hospitality tickets to racing events donated to him by betting firms, of threatening to vote against the Government on press freedom unless the curbs on FOBTs were delayed.
Mr Davies admitted meeting Culture Secretary Jeremy Wright to discuss FOBTs, and did not deny meeting the Chancellor to discuss the issue in Spring. It is understood that during their meeting Mr Wright informed Mr Davies of his intention to bring in the reforms in the next financial year.
But the Shipley MP denied claims from Matt Zarb-Cousin, of the Campaign for Fairer Gambling, that he “threatened to vote for (the) Leveson 2 (inquiry into the Press) if Jeremy Wright didn’t delay it (action on FOBTs) to October 2019”.
Mr Davies told The Yorkshire Post: “There’s been no quid pro quo, it’s offensive beyond belief to suggest that I’m going to vote for something I fundamentally disagree with and it is categorically, 100 per cent untrue.”
He added: “I have never even spoken to Jeremy Wright about Leveson 2.
“It may be that there’s been quite a few other Conservative MPs who have been attempting to blackmail the Government over this issue but I am certainly not one of them.
“I haven’t said that I will vote against the Government on x, y or z if they don’t do this that or the other.
“I have absolutely not done that at all.”
Mr Davies, who is close to Brexit-backing Cabinet Minister and and reported opponent of FOBT reform Esther McVey, and Theresa May insist that there has been no delay and that the changes have actually been brought forward from April 2020 to October 2019.
But Ms Crouch in her resignation letter to the Prime Minister insisted that not introducing the reforms in April 2019 amounted to a delay.
Mrs May is facing fresh pressure over the resignation of Ms Crouch, who was applauded for her decision across the across the political spectrum and won the praise of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby and a raft of other Christian groups.
The move appeared to energise support for bringing in the bet limit earlier, with talk of Mrs May facing a potential rebel amendment to the Finance Bill later this month which could be backed by between 30 and 50 Tories, sources said.
International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt and Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom spoke warmly about Ms Crouch after she quit, and ex-Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said the MP deserved credit for sticking by her principles.
Mr Welby described Ms Crouch as “principled and courageous”, adding: “May God bless her commitment to doing right."