Could MP's conviction shift balance in Commons - and even influence Brexit?

PUBLISHED: 17:48 19 December 2018 | UPDATED: 17:55 19 December 2018

Fiona Onasanya

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Fiona Onasanya's conviction could shift the political balance in the House of Commons and even have an influence on the outcome of Brexit.

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Labour has suspended former whip Fiona Onasanya and said she should resign as an MP after she was convicted of lying to police to avoid a speeding charge.

The 35-year-old solicitor, who now faces a possible jail sentence, was accused of colluding with her brother Festus after her car was clocked going 41mph in a 30mph zone in the village of Thorney near Peterborough.

The Old Bailey heard evidence the MP for Peterborough was texting as well as speeding on the evening of Monday, July 24 last year, during the summer Commons recess.

Her departure would trigger a by-election in hyper-marginal Peterborough, which Theresa May's Conservatives would hope to recapture just 18 months since losing it to Labour in 2017.

Onasanya snatched the seat by just 607 votes and it is 13th on the list of Tory target constituencies, requiring a swing of just 0.64% to fall to May's party.

A Conservative victory would still leave the Tories 12 seats short of an overall majority in the House of Commons and dependent on their Democratic Unionist Party allies to get legislation through Parliament.

But in the current febrile state of politics, every vote counts.

The removal of a Remain-backing Labour MP who had signalled her support for a second EU referendum with a Conservative Brexiteer could make all the difference in a closely-fought division.

Peterborough voted 61% Leave in the 2016 referendum, but this was not translated into victory for outspoken Brexiteer Stewart Jackson in the following year's election.

Jackson, who held the seat from 2005-17, recording majorities as large as 4,861, went on to be chief of staff to David Davis during his time as Brexit secretary, but has said he will not stand for election in Peterborough again.

Of course, victory for the Tories is far from assured. With widespread opposition among Leave-backers to May's Withdrawal Agreement, it is likely that Ukip or other Eurosceptic groups would try to make inroads into the Conservative vote.

And there may not be a by-election. If sentenced to fewer than than 12 months, Onasanya could hold on to her seat - at least until the next general election - and remain in the Commons as an independent unless the Labour whip is restored.

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