Ian Paisley resignation claims are ‘bum steer’

Ian Paisley would face a by-election if 10% of the North Antrim electorate signed a petition of recall
Ian Paisley would face a by-election if 10% of the North Antrim electorate signed a petition of recall

A source close to Ian Paisley camp has firmly denied speculation that he may resign to halt a formal petition which could unseat him as MP for North Antrim.

According to one media report Mr Paisley may stand down when Parliament resumes in three weeks.

The move would halt the ongoing petition of recall, in which his electorate can force a by-election for the seat if 10%, or 7,543, of them sign it.

Such a move could bring forward any by-election by two weeks and could allow the MP to participate in some critical knife-edge Brexit votes he might otherwise miss. Mr Paisley is favourite to retain the seat in light of his 20,500 majority in 2017.

The recall petition was triggered after he failed to declare luxury family holidays paid for by the Sri Lankan government and was banned from Westminster for 30 days.

However, a well-placed source close to the Paisley camp rubbished speculation he would resign. “That story is a bum steer,” they said.

The DUP declined to offer any comment. “The party officers suspended Ian Paisley from membership of the party pending further investigation into his conduct,” a spokesman said.

North Antrim MLA Jim Allister said Mr Paisley’s potential resignation could bestow “an element of control” in the situation and “avoid the humiliation of being voted out by his own electors”.

But DUP MLA Jim Wells played down the credibility of the reports, saying he had been speaking to many people in the area recently and heard no mention of it, which he would have expected as the idea was “so quirky”.

Similarly, local DUP Alderman John Finlay said he had heard no such suggestions on the ground.

North Antrim MLA and UUP leader Robin Swann said he would be “surprised” if the MP decided to resign now.

Around 60 DUP members attended a private meeting to support Mr Paisley near Ballymena recently, where he offered his apologies to them.