Disgraced MP who brought Covid to Commons escapes £4,000 fine thanks to loophole in law

Dan Sanderson
·5-min read

Watch: Coronavirus - MP Margaret Ferrier who travelled with COVID will face no further action from Met Police

A disgraced MP who broke Covid rules by making an 800-mile round trip on public transport while suffering from the virus has escaped a £4,000 fine.

Margaret Ferrier, who is resisting calls to quit her seat, was investigated by the Metropolitan Police but will now not face punishment under English laws as a result of a technicality, as a new legal requirement to self-isolate did not come into force until a few days after she took a test.

The force has referred the case back to Police Scotland, however, as a requirement to self-isolate in Scotland is guidance, rather than written into law, she is unlikely to face a penalty. Even if she was found to have broken the law north of the border, the heaviest fine available to police is £60, reduced to £30 if paid promptly.

The Rutherglen and Hamilton West MP travelled from Glasgow to London on Monday, September 28, after experiencing coronavirus symptoms and taking a test two days earlier.

Margaret Ferrier has vowed to stay in her job - Pixel CRG/Pixel 
Margaret Ferrier has vowed to stay in her job - Pixel CRG/Pixel

She then gave a speech in the Commons on the Monday and found she tested positive later that evening, before taking the train back to Scotland the following day. Under the Scottish guidelines, she should have self-isolated as soon as she took the test and waited for a result.

In a statement, a Met Police said that after taking legal advice, it had concluded that new laws relating to self-isolation in England only applied from after September 28. While Ms Ferrier’s return train journey came on September 29, it was three days after she is believed to have taken the test, meaning “the regulation does not apply”.

Under the law that came into force last month in England, people who "recklessly" break self-isolation requirements face £4,000 fines. However, Nicola Sturgeon has so far not brought in penalties in Scotland for breaking self-isolation, saying she is concerned that doing so could deter people from taking tests.

A Met spokesman said: “On detailed examination of this new legislation, and following legal advice, it was concluded that this regulation is applicable only after the 28th September 2020. In this case the test occurred prior to the 29th September 2020 and therefore the regulation does not apply.

"As such, there will be no further action in relation to this investigation from the Metropolitan Police. We are in liaison with Police Scotland and have referred the matter to them for consideration.”

In a statement, a spokeswoman for Police Scotland said: "We are aware of the decision made by the Metropolitan Police Service. We will now assess the circumstances and consult with the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service before taking a decision on next steps."

In Scotland, restrictions on holding or attending house parties or refusing to wear face masks are enforcable by law, with police able to hand out £60 fines, reduced by half if paid promptly, or in the most serious cases, refer offenders for prosecution. However, there is no legal requirement to self-isolate if told to do so.

While Ms Ferrier has apologised for breaking the rules and been largely ostracised from the SNP, she has refused to step down from her £82,000-per-year job. While she has lost the party whip at Westminster, Ms Sturgeon has said she cannot be formally expelled from the party until internal disciplinary procedures have been completed.

She could yet face removal as an MP if she is suspended from the Commons for 10 sitting days, and then 10 per cent of voters in her constituency sign a recall petition, but it is likely to be a lengthy process.

If her punishment from Westminster authorities is not severe enough to spark a recall process or a petition did not receive enough signatures, there is nothing to stop her sitting as an independent MP until the next General Election, due to take place in May 2024.

Douglas Ross, the Scottish Corservative leader, said the public would be "furious" to learn that Ms Ferrier" might get off with this scot free."

Watch: Can you catch coronavirus twice?

He added: “She hasn’t lost her job as an MP, she hasn’t been expelled from the SNP, and she hasn’t been charged by the Met.

“Her reckless actions have undermined the vital public health message and many people will be left feeling it’s one rule for politicians and another rule for everyone else.

“The public needs to know that what she did was wrong and cannot be allowed to stand. The SNP must send that clear message by expelling her from the party.”

Ms Ferrier has described her actions as a “blip” and claimed the virus affected her judgement, saying it "makes you act out of character”.

In her only interview since the scandal broke, she said she had “panicked” after receiving a positive test and had not wanted to self-isolate in London.

The 60-year-old visited also a beauty salon, gym and gift shop on the day she first displayed symptoms, and the following day gave a reading at a church service attended by elderly parishioners.

Speaking about the backlash, she said: "You feel you're getting a lot of criticism from people you thought were your colleagues or friends who would understand it was one blip. This has been an awful experience, but I'll keep fighting for my constituents because that's who I am."