Ian Paisley could make unwelcome history for DUP

MP would be unseated if 10% of North Antrim electorate support petition

DUP MP Ian Paisley: he has made it clear that if the petition succeeds he will stand again. Photograph:  PA Wire

DUP MP Ian Paisley: he has made it clear that if the petition succeeds he will stand again. Photograph: PA Wire

 

Ian Paisley could make some unwanted history for himself and his party by becoming the first MP to be unseated under relatively new British legislation that allows the public to petition for his removal from office.

After the House of Commons on Tuesday suspended Mr Paisley for 30 sitting days it is now for the North’s chief electoral officer Virginia McVea to kickstart the recall petition process that could lead to the unseating of the North Antrim DUP MP.

The House of Commons speaker John Bercow will now write to Ms McVea notifying her of the suspension, and she in turn automatically will begin the recall petition process.

Under this legislation introduced in 2015 if 10 per cent of the eligible electorate of about 75,000 sign the recall petition then Mr Paisley would be ousted as MP. The petition has not been used against any MP so far. Mr Paisley, however, would be permitted to stand again in the subsequent North Antrim byelection.

Some 7,500 North Antrim voters would force his removal as MP by signing the petition. If people on the register will be out of the constituency or do not wish to be seen entering a petition they can apply to the electoral office for postal votes. People can also apply to vote by proxy.

Sinn Féin and the SDLP have made clear they will support such a move. Between them they won close to 10,500 votes in last year’s Westminster election in North Antrim, which Mr Paisley won with 28,521 votes – the highest vote in Northern Ireland.

Ten venues

With the Ulster Unionist Party, Traditional Unionist Voice and Alliance – a significant number of whom also would be disposed to supporting the petition – winning close to 9,500 votes in last year’s election it appears clear that the 7,500 petition figure should be achieved.

Ms McVea will have 10 days to prepare the current electoral register, after which the petition will be opened to be signed at 10 venues in North Antrim.

As in regular elections petitioners must provide proof of their identity, which will be checked against the electoral register. The petition will run for six weeks. If successful it could result in a byelection being called in October or November.

Registered petition campaigners can be nominated by parties or by others to campaign in favour of the petition. They can spend a maximum of £10,000 in the campaign. Unregistered petition campaigners can spend a maximum of £500. They must produce spending returns to Ms McVea.

Mr Paisley has made clear that if the petition succeeds he will stand again and judging by his majority last time, he would be the clear favourite to hold his seat.