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Recall elections

Published Friday, March 22, 2019

Recall is used to describe a process where the electorate in an area can trigger a special election to remove an elected representative before the end of their term. A recall procedure was introduced in the UK in 2015. It only applies to Members of Parliament.

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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. This briefing describes the operation of recall in the UK and outlines the background to its introduction

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 petitions 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 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.

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.

Peterborough petition

The second recall was triggered on 5 March 2019. The Speaker of the House of Commons announced that he would write to the petitions 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 Peterborough petition will be open from Tuesday 19 March to Wednesday 1 May 2019. The number of signatures for the petition to succeed is 6,967.

Recall elsewhere

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.

Commons Briefing papers SN05089

Authors: Richard Kelly; Neil Johnston

Topics: Elections, Members of Parliament

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