By-election likely as Covid rule-flouting MP loses appeal against suspension

Margaret Ferrier given community payback order

An MP has lost her appeal against a ruling by the House of Commons’ top standards watchdog that she should be suspended from the Commons for 30 days, making a by-election likely.

In March, the Commons’ Standards Committee concluded she had “knowingly and recklessly exposed members of the public and those on the parliamentary estate to the risk of contracting COVID-19 and demonstrated a disregard for the parliamentary and national guidance in place”.

Despite the committee ruling against her, and Scottish Police convicting her of “culpable and reckless conduct”, Ms Ferrier decided to appeal the ruling to Parliament’s “Independent Expert Panel”.

Today the panel dismissed her appeal, taking Ms Ferrier one step closer to a crunch by-election as she fights to keep her job.

Ms Ferrier’s appeal was dismissed at the first stage of the process, with the panel’s report concluding: “None of the grounds had substance and the sanction imposed was neither unreasonable nor disproportionate.”

The MP, who was stripped of the SNP whip, did not appeal against the committee’s findings that she broke the code of conduct, however, argued the 30-day suspension recommendation was “unduly harsh”.

She also complained that, in reaching their sanction recommendation, the committee had not given consideration to the fact she self-referred herself to the Standards Commissioner.

Nor did the Committee give “due consideration to her hard work as an MP and impeccable Parliamentary record”.

Ms Ferrier also argued the committee had not given due consideration to the Scottish court’s sentencing remarks when the judge commented on her “good character and dedication as an MP”.

This, she claimed, was a “breach of natural justice”.

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Among her other complaints was that the Committee had been split over whether to recommend a 30-day suspension, which will trigger a recall petition, and that it’s “unfair to recommend a sanction that automatically triggered the process under the Recall of MPs Act 2015”.

Ms Ferrier also provided “new evidence” to the appeal committee, amounting to further details about a health condition that “led her to panic and make poor decisions” and was concerned about access to medication to treat her condition if she didn’t return to Scotland.

The panel spoke to her specialist consultant, however, who said the medication she referred to may now “be reduced and phased out altogether”.

It said: “There is nothing in the report to suggest that either the condition or the medication itself could lead to panic or confused decision-making. In our view, this report is not fresh evidence.

“We are not impressed by the point that the details of her medical condition led to ‘intense panic’, as she puts it, and ‘poor decision-making’.

“We are satisfied that she had made the decision to go home, if the test was positive, without telling anyone. That was not just a poor decision, it was a seriously dishonest one, putting the public at risk of infection.”

The committee upheld the suspension.

If an MP is suspended from the Commons for 10 sitting days, or 14 days total, constituents are able to launch a recall petition, which will be held over a six-week period.

Where that petition is signed by at least 10 percent of the MP’s constituents, a by-election will be called, which the MP can either choose to stand in or resign from the Commons at that point.

MPs will now vote on whether to suspend Ms Ferrier for the recommended 30 days.

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