ULSTER unionist Ian Paisley has thanked voters for their “unwavering support” as he kept his seat after Westminster’s first ever recall petition.
The North Antrim DUP politician, who is helping to prop up Theresa May, was suspended for failing to declare two holidays paid for by the Sri Lankan government.
He narrowly avoided a by-election after fewer than 10 per cent of constituents signed the petition.
The petition device, created in the wake of the Westminster expenses scandal, was initiated after Mr Paisley was banned from the House of Commons over his South Asian holidays.
A parliamentary watchdog found in July that a year after the trips, Mr Paisley lobbied then prime minister David Cameron not to support a UN probe into alleged Sri Lankan human rights abuses.
In a statement, Mr Paisley last night said: “In July I apologised for a mistake made almost six years ago.
“The electorate was asked to pass judgement. 90.6% have accepted my apology. The electorate has clearly spoken.
“I would like to thank my true friends, family, the electorate who have stood by me with unwavering support. Hallelujah.”
The long-standing Democratic Unionist, whose late father the Reverend Ian Paisley founded the party, is currently suspended from the DUP pending its own internal investigation into his conduct.
Northern Ireland’s Chief Electoral Officer Virginia McVea announced the outcome in Belfast around 1.25am this morning after a count that commenced at midnight.
Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann said it was clear there was no public appetite for a by-election, saying he “respected that outcome”.
He added: “However I would caution Ian Paisley not to see this as some sort of victory or endorsement of his actions in acting as a paid advocate for a foreign government and bringing North Antrim and the House of Commons into disrepute.
“Rather I would urge him to use the time that he has been suspended from Parliament and the DUP, to reflect on the severity of what he has done and the embarrassment he has brought on Northern Ireland. He should demonstrate some humility.”
Mr Paisley’s Commons ban has left Theresa May shorn of one of her 10 DUP MP confidence and supply allies during a period that could witness several crucial Brexit votes.
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An investigation by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards found the cost of the hospitality afforded Mr Paisley and his family may have been “significantly more” than his £50,000 estimate.
It found the Sri Lankan holidays included business-class air travel, accommodation at first-class hotels, helicopter trips and visits to tourist attractions for the North Antrim MP and his wider family.
The trips also included meeting with Sri Lankan governmental figures.
Mr Paisley’s threshold for registering such hospitality in 2013 was around £660.
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