This briefing summarises the voting rights for different types of elections in the UK.
Documents to download
Recall elections (561 KB , PDF)
Recall of MPs
A recall procedure was introduced in the UK in 2015. It only applies to Members of Parliament and was a 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
MPs can be recalled only under certain circumstances:
- If they are convicted in the UK of an offence and sentenced or ordered to be imprisoned or detained and all appeals have been exhausted (and the sentence does not lead to automatic disqualification from being an MP);
- If they are suspended 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);
- If they are convicted of an offence under section 10 of the Parliamentary Standards Act 2009 (making false or misleading Parliamentary allowances claims)
Once a petition is open it is available for signing for six weeks and is administered by the local returning officer for the constituency. They are known as a petition officer when dealing with a recall petition.
For a recall petition to be successful 10% of eligible registered voters need to sign the petition. If the required number is not reached the petition fails and the MP remains in post.
If the 10% threshold is reached the petition officer informs the Speaker of the House of Commons that the recall petition has been successful. On the giving of that notice the seat becomes vacant. A by-election is then required and 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.
So far, there have been three recall petitions. Two have been successful.
North Antrim petition
The first recall petition against an MP was triggered in July 2018 after the House of Commons agreed to suspend Ian Paisley, the 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.
The second recall was triggered on 5 March 2019. The Speaker of the House of Commons announced that he would write to the petition officer for the Peterborough constituency to inform them that Fiona Onasanya was subject to a recall process. This followed her conviction and three-month prison sentence for perverting the course of justice. Ms Onasanya appeal against the conviction was rejected. This ended of the appeals process, therefore triggering the first recall condition. The petition was open from Tuesday 19 March until Wednesday 1 May 2019.
The Speaker notified the House of Commons that the petition had been successful at 6:37pm 1 May 2019. At the point the petition officer notified the Speaker that the petition had been successful, the Peterborough seat became vacant. Ms Onasanya did not contest the subsequent by-election.
The writ for a by-election was moved the following day with the by-election taking place on 6 June 2019. The Labour Party retained the seat with Lisa Forbes elected. In the general election of December 2019, the Conservatives won the seat from Labour.
Brecon and Radnorshire petition
On Friday 22 March 2019, Chris Davies, the MP for Brecon and Radnorshire, pleaded guilty at Westminster Magistrates’ Court to charges brought under section 10 of the Parliamentary Standards Act 2009. His conviction met the third condition for the triggering of a recall petition. The court referred Mr Davies to the crown court for sentencing. A conviction for a section 10 offence is all that is required to trigger a recall petition, the sentence will not affect the trigger.
On 25 March, a spokeswoman for the Speaker of the House said that when the court had informed Mr Speaker that sentencing had taken place, then the formal notice to launch a recall petition would be given.
Sentencing took place on 23 April and a formal announcement of the recall petition was made by the Speaker on 24 April. The petition was open for signing from Thursday 9 May until Thursday 20 June 2019.
On 21 June, the petition officer for Powys announced that notice had been given to the Speaker that the petition had been successful and that the Brecon and Radnorshire seat was vacant. The number of valid signatures received was 10,005.
A by-election was held on 1 August 2019. The local Conservative Party selected Chris Davies as its candidate who lost the seat to the Liberal Democrat’s Jane Dodds. In the general election of December 2019, the Conservatives regained the seat.
A fourth petition would have been triggered in October 2019. The then MP for Leicester East, Keith Vaz, was suspended from the service of the House for six months following on from a report and recommended sanction from the Committee on Standards. However, the early general election of December 2019 meant that the Speaker was not required to issue the notice of a petition.
Electoral Commission recommendations
The Commission has recommended that the operation of the recall processes should now be reviewed by the Government. The Commission has made recommendations on possible changes to improve the experience for electors and the administration of future petitions following reviews of the first three petitions.
It commented that all the petitions to date had been delivered to a high standard within the rules set out in the legislation. However, it 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 questioned whether six weeks for a petition was too long, suggesting that four weeks might be more appropriate, and recommended greater clarity about the procedures to be followed at the close of the petition.
Only about 30 countries have some form of recall mechanism. The exact mechanism of recall varies between these countries. Some allow national elected officials to be recalled and others only allow regional or local representatives to be recalled.
Recall is generally a two-stage process. Usually a petition is opened asking voters if they want to recall the representative. If enough people sign, usually a set proportion of eligible voters, then the recall moves to the second stage. This is where the representative is removed from office and a new election is held. The person being recalled is usually able to seek re-election.
In some recall processes the electorate can initiate a recall petition for any reason. This system of ‘full recall’ was rejected by the Coalition Government, which concluded that MPs must not be left vulnerable to attack from those who simply disagree with them or think that they should have voted a different way on a particular measure.
Documents to download
Recall elections (561 KB , PDF)
This briefing paper provides an update on developments since the Parliamentary Buildings (Restoration and Renewal) Act 2019 received Royal Assent in October 2019.
An explanation of the motion for an instruction to the Public Bill Committee examining the Elections Bill 2021-22.