A piece by Will Humphries in today’s Times:
The disgraced MP Fiona Onasanya could lose her parliamentary seat after a recall petition was ordered yesterday.
It followed the rejection of her appeal against her conviction for perverting the course of justice.
Onasanya, who was elected as Labour MP for Peterborough but was expelled from the party in December, was told by the Court of Appeal that there was “absolutely no basis to challenge her conviction”.
John Bercow, the Speaker, told MPs that he would trigger a recall petition. The petition has to be opened within the next ten working days and up to ten designated places could be set up and stay open for six weeks for constituents to sign the petition. A by-election will be called if 10 per cent of eligible constituents — estimated to be about 7,000 people — sign the petition.
Labour and the Conservatives have urged her to stand down.
The court had been told that she colluded with her brother Festus to provide false information about the driver of her Nissan Micra which was caught speeding at 41mph in a 30mph zone in Thorney, near Peterborough, in July 2017.
Onasanya, who now sits as an independent MP, represented herself at the Court of Appeal yesterday but surprised Sir Brian Leveson, who led the appeal panel, by arriving without any documents.“I am a bit concerned that you haven’t got any papers with you,” he told her.
Onasanya told the court: “The charge against me was perverting the course of justice. I said from the outset, and I still maintain my innocence, that I did not do that.” She said that the wording of the charge against her had been “unclear and misleading” because it also included the offences committed by her brother. Sir Brian told that her this argument was “misconceived” and that her brother was integral to her case.
She also tried to dismiss some of the evidence presented against her.
Sir Brian said: “It is important that you understand that the only basis upon which this court can interfere on a verdict of the jury is if the judge made an error of law or there was some other material irregularity of the trial . . . We do not re-decide the evidence or reinvestigate the facts. You are a solicitor, you will understand that.”
Onasanya also said that she had not received a fair trial because “not one media article has put across my point of view”. Sir Brian told her that the judge repeatedly directed the jury to try the case only on the evidence in court and not to look at media reports or social media.
“This applicant was tried fairly by a jury, who rejected her evidence on oath,” he said.
“There was no error of law in the approach of the judge, whose directions were clear and accurate, nor was there any other irregularity with the trial. It is a tragedy that she has damaged, probably irreparably, a promising political career, but there is absolutely no basis for challenging her conviction.”
Onasanya was dismissed by the Labour Party after refusing to stand down and trigger a by-election. At the sentencing hearing Christine Agnew, QC, said that Onasanya “continues to stand as an independent MP . . . because it is her only source of income”.
A Labour spokesman said: “She must now do the decent thing and go. If she refuses to stand down, Labour will actively support local residents in their efforts to trigger a by-election.”
A Conservative Party spokesman said: “Fiona Onasanya has let Peterborough down. She has refused to do the right thing and step down and continued to receive her taxpayer-funded salary while in prison.”
Behind the story: Rules let convicts keep seats
MPs have called for a rule change to force politicians to face a by-election if they are convicted of any crime (Will Humphries writes).
At present only MPs jailed for 12 months or more are automatically kicked out. However, any custodial or suspended sentence of less than a year that is not appealed against does trigger a recall petition under the Recall of MPs Act 2015. Fiona Onasanya’s recall petition was delayed by her appeal.
Ian Paisley, the DUP MP for North Antrim, was the subject of a recall petition last year after being suspended from Westminster for failing to declare two holidays paid for by the Sri Lankan government. Fewer than 10 per cent of his constituents signed the petition, however, so he did not have to face a by-election.
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