Disgraced MP Fiona Onasanya loses seat after recall petition

Brexit party to field first candidate in Peterborough byelection triggered by move

Fiona Onasanya, the MP found guilty of lying to avoid a speeding ticket, has become the first parliamentarian to be removed from office after a recall petition, triggering a byelection in her Peterborough seat.

Nigel Farage’s Brexit party will field its first parliamentary candidate in the seat, which voted 60-40 to leave the EU. The bellwether constituency usually swings behind the party that wins a general election.

More than one in four registered voters – 27.64% – signed an official notice calling for the removal of Onasanya, according to a spokesperson for Peterborough city council. This was well above the 10% threshold.

The Speaker, John Bercow, announced in the House of Commons on Wednesday night that the petition had been successful. “Fiona Onasanya is no longer the member for Peterborough and the seat is accordingly vacant,” he told the Commons.

Onasanya, 35, will automatically stop receiving her parliamentary salary, expenses and pension payments, said a spokesman for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority. She becomes a preserved member of the pension scheme but can no longer contribute to it.

Onasanya, a solicitor, committed Christian and supporter of Jeremy Corbyn, was plucked from political obscurity to stand in the Cambridgeshire city in 2017.

She is still to face a misconduct tribunal, the Solicitors Regulation Authority has confirmed, which could mean that she could no longer practise in law.

Local sources said the byelection is expected to be held on June 6, after the European elections on 23 May.

Labour, as Onasanya’s former party, said the party would trigger the process on Thursday by moving a motion in parliament. Onasanya could in theory stand in a byelection, but friends have said this is unlikely.

Farage confirmed on Twitter that his new party will fight the byelection but has refused to say whether he might stand. A Brexit candidate could well take votes off both main parties but would be particularly challenging for the Conservative candidate, Paul Bristow.

Ian Lavery MP, the Labour party chair, said: “Labour campaigned hard for a victory in this recall petition. The people of Peterborough clearly agree that Fiona Onasanya is not fit to be their MP and we’re delighted they will now have the chance to vote for a Labour MP in our excellent candidate, Lisa Forbes.”

The Liberal Democrat candidate, Beki Sellick, said: “Brexit is the issue on the doorstep, even when simply campaigning for the council elections.”

Why is there a by-election?

Former Labour MP Fiona Onasanya lost her seat after being jailed for perverting the course of justice. She become the first parliamentarian to be removed from office after a recall petition.

How did the parties do at the last election?

In 2017 a close vote saw Labour take the seat from sitting Conservative MP Stewart Jackson with a majority of just 607.

Labour - Fiona Onasanya 22,950
Conservative- Stewart Jackson 22,343
Liberal Democrat - Beki Sellick 1,597
Green - Fiona Radić 848

Who is standing this time?

Labour are hoping to retain the seat with Unite trade unionist Lisa Forbes, who previously contested it in 2015. The Conservatives will try to prise it back with local businessman Paul Bristow.

Ex-Tory businessman Mike Greene is to stand for the Brexit party, their first attempt to secure an MP, which comes just two weeks after they won the largest vote share at the European Parliamentary elections.

An attempt to form an alliance of pro-remain parties to support a single candidate collapsed. Representatives of the Liberal Democrats, the Green party, Renew and Change UK failed to reach an agreement on a single independent candidate. The Lib Dems and the Greens are now standing separately, while Change UK will support the Renew candidate Peter Ward.

When will we know the result?

The by-election is on Thursday 6 June. Polls close at 10pm, and the result should be known within a couple of hours.

Labour won Peterborough by just 607 votes in the 2017 general election, in a surprise victory over the Conservative Stewart Jackson, who had held the seat since 2005.

The petition was automatically triggered after Onasanya failed to overturn a conviction for perverting the course of justice.

It is the first time an MP has been recalled under the statute. An attempt to recall the DUP MP Ian Paisley Jr in September failed when 9.4% of constituents supported it.

Chris Davies, the Conservative MP for Brecon and Radnorshire, will face a recall petition on 9 May after pleading guilty to submitting a false expenses claim.

Onasanya was suspended and urged to quit her seat by Labour after her conviction in December for perverting the course of justice.

Her barrister told the court that she had continued to stand as an independent MP because it was her only source of income.

She lied to officers about who was driving her car in an attempt to avoid penalty points, after the vehicle was recorded speeding at 41mph in a 30mph zone near Thorney, Cambridgeshire.

She received a three-month suspended sentence in January, after the judge accepted her claim that she was under immense pressure and could not cope as a new MP when the offence took place. She spent less than a month in prison before being allowed out while wearing a tag.

MPs are automatically disqualified from holding their seat if they are sentenced to more than a year in jail. Any prison sentence, even a suspended one, can trigger a recall petition. This can force a byelection if signed by one in ten voters in a constituency.


Rajeev Syal

The GuardianTramp

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