Parliament unanimously bans Ian Paisley for 30 sitting days over holiday scandal

Parliament has confirmed that DUP MP Ian Paisley Jr will be suspended for 30 sitting days - something which means that the Government has lost one vote ahead of what are likely to be knife-edge Brexit votes in the autumn.

The length of the suspension - handed down after Mr Paisley and his family took lavish holidays from a foreign government for which he then lobbied - represents the biggest punishment given to any MP since at least 1949.

DUP MP Ian Paisley and his family received two free holidays from the Sri Lankan government

DUP MP Ian Paisley and his family received two free holidays from the Sri Lankan government

The scale of the suspension means that Mr Paisley’s voters will now be automatically - under changes made in the wake of the Westminster expenses scandal - be given the chance to force a by-election.

Under the Recall of MPs Act 2015, Commons Speaker John Bercow now must write to the Chief Electoral Office for Northern Ireland to ask her to start a petition in Mr Paisley’s North Antrim constituency.

If over a six-week period that petition is signed by 10% of voters - about 7,600 people - then Mr Paisley will lose his seat and a by-election will be held. He has made clear that in such a situation he would stand again.

Mr Bercow told the Commons that there had never been a recall petition before but that there were now 10 days for the petition to be put in place.

The Speaker said that it was a “regrettable state of affairs”.

The 30-day sanction was last week recommended by the Commons’ Standards Committee and today ratified by the Commons.

Mr Paisley was not in the Commons when the sanction was unanimously approved by MPs this afternoon.

Leader of the House Andrea Leadsom said it was “always regrettable” when the house has to debate a motion relating to misconduct.

Sir Kevin Barron, chair of the Standards Committee, said that it viewed Mr Paisley’s misconduct as a very serious matter which justified such an unusually high sanction.

Mr Paisley’s father, the late Rev Dr Ian Paisley, was thrice ejected from the Commons - twice in 1981 and then famously in 1993 when he was put out by Betty Boothroyd - and suspended for a period of five days on each occasion.

However, the circumstances of those suspensions was strikingly different to those in which his son now finds himself.

Rather than any allegation of financial misconduct, Dr Paisley was suspended for “disorderly conduct” by refusing to withdraw typically outspoken allegations - on those occasions of lying - against Government ministers in relation to events in Northern Ireland.

A satisfied Dr Paisley told Ms Boothryod, the then Speaker, after his punishment: ““I want to thank you for the gracious way you threw me out the other day. I got the front page of the Belfast Telegraph and you got page three.”

By contrast to those suspensions which Dr Paisley portrayed as being the result of him standing up for unionist voters in Northern Ireland, the Commons’ Standards Committee last week ruled that Mr Paisley had been guilty of “serious misconduct” in failing to declare lavish hospitality from the Sri Lankan government.

Last week, in a personal statement to the Commons after the publication of that report, Mr Paisley offered a “profound apology” for his conduct.

The Commons’ Standards Commissioner’s report showed that Mr Paisley had told her that a visit by himself and his family to an elephant orphanage in Sri Lanka was “very much a working visit” for him as North Antrim MP.

Details of that visit emerged in an itinerary – which was leaked to the Daily Telegraph – that included instructions for the Paisleys to be provided with a Mercedes Benz on arrival, a luxury van, top of the range hotels, multiple helicopter trips, a shopping trip and a visit to a national park. Mr Paisley said that his wife and children came with him because he valued time with his family and did not want to be away from them for any longer than was necessary.

He suggested he was invited due to his “well-established knowledge of terrorism and post-conflict activities”.

The Daily Telegraph estimated the cost of the Sri Lankan government’s gifts to Mr Paisley and his family at £100,000. He took issue with that, arguing that they were closer to £50,000.

However, the threshold for registration of the gifts is just over £600.

Mr Paisley told the Commons Standards Commissioner Kathryn Stone that the trips were “to gain a wider knowledge of the political and social situation on the ground in Sri Lanka” but added: “There is no doubt that I enjoyed some free time as well.”

Defending his visit to see elephants, Mr Paisley said it involved “an insight that ... would not have been available to tourists”.

Mr Paisley - who when his behaviour was revealed by The Daily Telegraph last year threatened to sue the newspaper - was also shown to have sent an email from his personal email account to a Sri Lankan government official in which he represented himself as someone who had “two significant arrangements” with big oil suppliers who could could “very quickly” help get a deal for a “lucrative project”.

Mr Paisley told the Commons’ Standards Commissioner that he “never brokered any oil deal for any gentleman or anyone else” and it was “nonsense” to suggest “some sort of illicit trade deal...between myself and [a Sri Lankan official]”.