2019 Peterborough recall petition
The Peterborough recall petition was a 2019 recall petition for the United Kingdom parliamentary constituency of Peterborough, the first to successfully remove a Member of Parliament (MP). It was triggered after the constituency's MP Fiona Onasanya failed to secure permission to appeal against being found guilty of perverting the course of justice and being sentenced to a terms of imprisonment. Onasanya misled police with regard to a speeding offence in 2017, was convicted in December 2018, and in March 2019 lost an application for permission to appeal against her conviction and sentence.
Onasanya is an independent politician, having been expelled from the Labour Party following the conviction. The petition opened on 19 March and ran until 5pm on 1 May 2019. The recall petition was successful: 19,261 signatures were obtained from the 69,673 electors eligible to sign the petition, or 27.64%, exceeding the 10% required to vacate the seat.
The petition ejected Onasanya from the seat, triggering the 2019 Peterborough by-election to fill the vacancy.
Onasanya was elected as the Labour MP for Peterborough at the 2017 UK general election and later stated her wish to be the first black female Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. In July 2017, her car was driven at 41 mph (66 km/h) through a 30 mph (48 km/h) zone in Thorney, Cambridgeshire. A Notice of Intended Prosecution was returned to the police in her name, claiming that a man named Aleks Antipow was the driver. However, it was later discovered that Antipow was in his native Russia at the time. Around the same time, her brother Festus had also responded to two other notices with false names. Both Fiona and Festus Onasanya were consequently charged with perverting the course of justice; Festus pleaded guilty while Fiona pleaded not guilty.
Owing to the jury at the Old Bailey failing to reach a verdict, Judge Nicholas Hilliard QC ordered a retrial. At the retrial, Onasanya was found guilty and compared herself afterwards to several biblical figures including Moses and Jesus who had been convicted by courts in their day; she declared her intention to appeal. Onasanya received a three-month prison sentence. The Attorney General reviewed the sentence after a complaint was received from the public that it was unduly lenient, and concluded that it was not. Onsanya was released from prison on 26 February 2019, after serving four weeks. Her appeal against conviction was rejected on 5 March 2019, and later that day, the Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow announced in Parliament that a recall petition would be put into place against her.
Procedure and timetable
Under the Recall of MPs Act 2015, any MP who receives a prison sentence of a year or less is subject to a recall petition, though the procedure cannot begin until appeals have been unsuccessful. Onasanya lost her request to appeal on 5 March 2019. The court officially informed the Speaker of the House of Commons who, later that day, took the necessary steps to initiate the process which included notifying the petition officer for the constituency.
The petition officer for Peterborough opened the petition on 19 March, with ten designated signing places within the constituency for constituents to sign the petition. The threshold for success was ten percent of eligible constituents (6,967 out of 69,673) signing within the six-week period (ending 1 May[note 1]) in order to recall Onasanya and call a by-election. Registered parliamentary electors could sign the petition at their assigned polling place, or do so by post or by proxy. The projected cost of the petition was approximately £500,000.
No ongoing tally was reported by the petitions officer, thus it was not known that the required threshold had been reached until the end of the six-week period. There was no opinion polling, as UK law prohibits forecasts of the outcome of recall petitions which are based on statements from, or surveys of, potential signatories.
19,261 signatures were obtained. This represented 27.64% of the 69,673 electors eligible to sign the petition, thus surpassing the 10% threshold, causing the seat to become vacant, and triggering the 2019 Peterborough by-election.
Though she did not stand, Onasanya was legally eligible to be a candidate in the by-election. The Labour Party had withdrawn support for her — the party encouraged voters to sign the petition and, along with several other parties, pre-selected a by-election candidate.
- The polling places were closed on Good Friday and Easter Monday, hence the extra two days of being open.
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- Anna Savva (13 November 2018). "MP Fiona Onasanya claimed man in Russia was behind wheel during speeding offence". CambridgeshireLive. Retrieved 30 January 2019.
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- UK Parliament. Representation of the People Act 1981 as amended (see also enacted form), from legislation.gov.uk.
- UK Parliament. Recall of MPs Act 2015 as amended (see also enacted form), from legislation.gov.uk.
- "Notification received from Speaker on recall petition". Peterborough City Council. Retrieved 11 March 2019.
- "MP Fiona Onasanya recall petition opens". BBC News. 19 March 2019. Retrieved 23 April 2019.
- "Public notice of petition to remove the MP for Peterborough Fiona Onasanya". Peterborough City Council. Retrieved 11 March 2019.
- "This is how Peterborough residents can remove Fiona Onasanya as MP under a recall petition". Peterborough Telegraph. 8 January 2019. Retrieved 30 January 2019.
- "Peterborough MP recall petition set to cost £500,000". ITV News. 8 March 2019. Retrieved 11 March 2019.
- "This is what Peterborough residents will sign in the recall petition to trigger a by-election after Fiona Onasanya loses her appeal". www.peterboroughtoday.co.uk. Retrieved 12 March 2019.
- "BBC - Editorial Guidelines - Editorial Guidelines". www.bbc.co.uk. Retrieved 20 March 2019.
There are automatic reporting restrictions in relation to recall petitions. They state that until the end of the last day of the signing period of the petition we must not publish / broadcast: Any statement relating to whether any person has signed the petition where that statement is (or might reasonably be taken to be) based on information given by that person; or Any forecast as to the result of the petition which is (or might reasonably be taken to be) based on information so given.
- "By-Election Triggered As Peterborough Voters Back Bid To Remove Disgraced MP Fiona Onasanya". HuffPost UK. 1 May 2019. Retrieved 1 May 2019.
- "Public notice of petition to remove the MP for Peterborough Fiona Onasanya". Peterborough City Council. 1 May 2019. Retrieved 1 May 2019.
- "Selection of next Peterborough Labour Party candidate will be more rigorous than Fiona Onasanya selection". www.peterboroughtoday.co.uk. Retrieved 6 March 2019.
- "Labour to choose next Peterborough parliamentary candidate from all-woman shortlist to replace Fiona Onasanya". www.peterboroughtoday.co.uk. 1 February 2019. Retrieved 6 March 2019.
- Rodgers, Sienna (21 February 2019). "Labour selects Lisa Forbes to replace Fiona Onasanya in Peterborough". LabourList. Retrieved 6 March 2019.
- "Recall elections". House of Commons Library. parliament.uk. Retrieved 9 May 2019.