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Recall is where the electorate in an area can trigger a special election to remove an elected representative before the end of their term. In the UK only MPs can be recalled.

A recall procedure for MPs was introduced in the UK in 2015 in response to the MPs’ expenses scandal that occurred in the run up to the 2010 General Election. There are currently no plans to extend recall to other elected officials.

Conditions to trigger recall

MPs can be recalled under three circumstances:

  • Conviction in the UK of any offence and sentenced or ordered to be imprisoned or detained, after all appeals have been exhausted. Note – a sentence over 12 months in jail automatically disqualifies someone from being an MP;
  • Suspension from the House following report and recommended sanction from the Committee on Standards for a specified period (at least 10 sitting days, or at least 14 days if sitting days are not specified);
  • Convicted of an offence under section 10 of the Parliamentary Standards Act 2009 (making false or misleading Parliamentary allowances claims). Note – the sentence does not have to be custodial for this condition.

If one of the conditions is met the Speaker of the House must notify the local returning officer. They are known as a petition officer when dealing with a recall petition.

The recall petition

The petition officer will arrange for the petition to be open for six weeks. Electors may sign in person at a signing station or sign by post or by proxy.

For a recall petition to be successful 10% of eligible registered voters need to sign the petition. If the 10% threshold is reached the petition officer informs the Speaker of the House of Commons. On the giving of that notice the seat becomes vacant.

A by-election is then required. The recalled MP may stand as a candidate. The timing of a UK Parliamentary by-election is determined by custom of the House of Commons: the party that previously held the seat will usually decide when to trigger the by-election.

If the 10% threshold is not reached the recall fails and the MP retains their seat.

Recalls held so far

North Antrim

The first recall petition against an MP was triggered in July 2018 after the House of Commons agreed to suspend Ian Paisley, the DUP MP for North Antrim, for 30 Parliamentary ‘sitting days’ from 4 September 2018. The petition did not attract the required number of signatures to recall Mr Paisley, so he remained an MP.

Peterborough

The second recall was triggered in March 2019. Fiona Onasanya, the Labour MP, was sentenced to three months in prison on conviction for perverting the course of justice in December 2018. She appealed but the appeal failed on 5 March 2019. The recall was successful with over 25% of registered voters signing the petition. Ms Onasanya did not contest the subsequent by-election.

Brecon and Radnorshire

In March 2019 Chris Davies, the Conservative MP, pleaded guilty to two offences under section 10 of the Parliamentary Standards Act 2009. A recall petition was initiated after sentencing had taken place, on 24 April 2019.

The recall was successful, with 19% of electors signing the petition. Mr Davies was selected as the Conservative candidate for the subsequent by-election, which he lost.

Electoral Commission recommendations

The Commission published reports on the administration of the recalls held to date, saying they had been delivered to a high standard within the rules. It has recommended that the operation of the recall processes should now be reviewed by the Government.

The Commission identified administrative challenges and issues with transparency and secrecy as a result of applying electoral rules to a process which is not an election. It also suggested six weeks may be too long for a petition to be open and greater clarity was needed on the procedures to be followed at the close of the petition.

To date, the Government has not taken up the Commission’s recommendations.


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