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Ian Paisley recall petition result due in the early hours

Ian Paisley will learn the result of the North Antrim recall petition in the early hours of Thursday morning

IAN Paisley will find out in the early hours of tomorrow morning whether he must defend his North Antrim seat in a by-election.

The recall petition triggered by the shamed MP's unprecedented 30-sitting day suspension from the House of Commons will close at 5pm today, having been open for the past six weeks.

North Antrim constituents on the electoral register have been given the opportunity to sign the petition at three venues and by post.

If 7,543 signatures – ten per cent of the electorate – are gathered then Mr Paisley will step down from his Westminster seat ahead of a by-election.

The DUP MP was suspended from the House of Commons in July for failing to register two luxury family holidays to Sri Lanka, paid for by its government.

He later lobbied on behalf of the south Asian island's regime, urging the then British prime minister David Cameron not to support a UN investigation into human rights abuses during the long-running conflict between the Sri Lankan government and Tamil separatists.

Mr Paisley is also suspended from the DUP, which has said it is carrying out an investigation into his conduct.

Counting of the signatures gathered over the past six weeks will begin at midnight tonight at the Electoral Office's Belfast city centre headquarters.

The result is expected to be announced by chief electoral officer Virginia McVea between 1 am – 2 am and will subsequently be posted on the Electoral Office website.

If there is to be a by-election, Westminster sources have suggested it will likely take place in early November.

Mr Paisley has previously indicated that he would defend his seat, where at the last general election he secured a majority of more than 20,000.

Last week, The Irish News revealed that in the event of a by-election, the incumbent is set to face a challenge from a new anti-Brexit unionist party.

The centre-right Both Unions Party, which advocates a advocates a second referendum on EU membership, registered with the Electoral Commission last week.

It is led by Dirk Hazell, the former leader of the pro-EU Alliance EPP: European People's Party UK, while its backers include former Tory MEP John Stevens and Newry native Geoffrey Martin, the one-time European Union ambassador to the UK.

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