DUP MP Ian Paisley Jr avoids by-election after recall petition over Sri Lanka holiday scandal

Just 7,099 constituents signed the recall petition, while 7,543 people were required to force a by-election

Ben Kelly
Thursday 20 September 2018 01:43
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Ian Paisley Jr, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) MP for North Antrim, has held on to his North Antrim seat after Westminster's first ever recall petition fell short of the 10 per cent of electorate signatures required to force a by-election, Northern Ireland's Chief Electoral Officer Virginia McVea has announced.

Ms McVea communicated the outcome to Speaker John Bercow's office before announcing it in Belfast. "The petition has not been successful,'' she said. The percentage of the electorate that signed the petition was 9.4 per cent.

Mr Paisley was suspended from the House of Commons for 30 days in June for accepting luxury holidays to Sri Lanka worth £100,000, and not disclosing them. This automatically opened a recall procedure in his constituency, by which a by-election could be called if 10 per cent of the electorate signed a petition.

This amounted to 7,543 people, but tonight it has been announced that just 7,099 constituents signed the recall petition over the six weeks it was open.

Mr Paisley had indicated he would contest his seat again if a by-election was required. However, he is also currently suspended from the DUP.

His vote in the House of Commons nonetheless remains valuable to Theresa May as she enters into a period of months in which she will rely greatly on the support of the 10 DUP MPs she relies upon for confidence and supply.

Mr Paisley’s punishment came about after it emerged that took his family on all-expenses-paid holidays to Sri Lanka in 2013, and failed to register them. Afterwards, he wrote to then prime minister David Cameron lobbying in support of the Sri Lankan government over a United Nations resolution against the country.

A parliamentary report concluded that this amounted to “paid advocacy” and “brought the House of Commons into disrepute.” His 30 day suspension, which is still underway, is thought to be the longest period any MP has been barred from the Commons for 15 years.

Mr Paisley enjoyed a 20,000 majority in North Antrim at the 2017 general election - a constituency his father held for 40 years before him.

Had a by-election been forced, it would have come at a bad time for the DUP, who already face accusations of corruption from their political enemies.

Their handling of a botched green energy scheme is currently being interrogated at the RHI inquiry, with their leader Arlene Foster expected to face questioning in Belfast over her role in the scandal.

Further to this, Mr Paisley himself remains under investigation by the DUP, although they have not confirmed if this is in relation to Sri Lanka, or another matter.

Investigations into payment for a table at a Ballymena hotel dinner he hosted in 2017 are believed to be ongoing.

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