Ex-Labour MP Fiona Onasanya was today jailed for three months after being found guilty of lying to avoid a speeding ticket. She was expelled from the Labour Party earlier this month, though will not be automatically forced to resign as an independent MP as she has been convicted of an offence but her custodial sentence does not exceed 12 months.
Instead, a recall petition will be opened by a Petition Officer (the same person as a Returning Officer). They will notify voters of the petition, and both main parties will campaign in favour of signing it. If over 10% of eligible electors sign the petition, the seat becomes vacant and a by-election is then triggered. This process will only begin 28 days after Onasanya’s appeal period has ended, i.e. 26th February, so a petition would end on 9th April at the earliest.
Commenting on the sentencing today, a Labour spokesperson said: “Fiona Onasanya has let the voters of Peterborough down. When she was found guilty she should have immediately done the decent thing and resigned. However today’s sentence gives Fiona one last opportunity to act honourably and resign from parliament. She should do this without delay and not take another penny in salary from the public purse.
“If Fiona does not resign, Labour will support local residents in their efforts to trigger a by-election through a recall petition. Labour will fight any by-election vigorously. The people of Peterborough voted for a Labour MP, and that is what they deserve.
“That’s why Labour will now begin the process of selecting a candidate for the inevitable by-election – someone who will serve in the interests of the people of Peterborough. Peterborough needs a Labour MP to stand up for the people in this great city against the chaotic mismanagement of the Tory government and council.”
Onasanya represents the constituency of Peterborough, which was won by Labour from the Tories in the 2017 snap election. Her majority is just 607 votes. Peterborough firmly backed leaving the EU in 2016, when it voted by over 60% for Brexit.
Having anticipated a potential by-election, Labour has already started campaigning in the key marginal seat. Frontbencher Barry Gardiner recently joined activists on the doorstep. The local Labour party has established a campaign centre in the city, which is serving as a base for campaigning activities and training sessions such as ‘making the most of social media’.
Before Onasanya, the seat was represented by Stewart Jackson, who after losing his seat went on to serve as chief of staff and special adviser to David Davis during his time as Brexit Secretary. Jackson is known for his strongly held pro-Brexit views.
The Tories have selected local resident Paul Bristow as their next parliamentary candidate, and only yesterday he campaigned with Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd in the city. He supported Brexit in 2016 and criticised Onasanya for supporting another EU referendum.
Labour has not yet selected a candidate, but has confirmed it will now start the process. Lisa Forbes, who stood for the seat in 2015, is expected to run for selection, according to a reliable Labour source.