Recall petitions have been discussed a lot in UK politics in recent months due to several scandals. Boris Johnson, Margaret Ferrier, Chris Pincher and more. These MPs have all been faced with or removed as a result of being recalled by their constituents, which have emerged as a powerful tool when discussing increased accountability of MPs by the public regarding actions.
This article explores the significance of recall petitions and their impact on increasing transparency and trust in the political system.
What are recall petitions?
Recall petitions were introduced under the Recall of MPs Act 2015, allowing constituents to trigger a by-election if their MP has been convicted of wrongdoing. Once the requirements of the Act have been triggered, the petition remains open for a period of six weeks, during which eligible constituents can sign it. To be successful, the recall petition must be signed by at least 10% of the registered voters in the constituency. A by-election is held if the threshold is met, allowing constituents to choose a new MP.
How is a petition triggered?
There are several ways in which a recall petition on a Member of Parliament can be triggered. The Recall of MPs Act (2015) sets out the following:
- A conviction for providing false or misleading expense claims.
- A custodial prison sentence.
- Note that if an MP is sentenced for a year or longer, they are automatically removed as an MP due to the 1981 Representation of the People Act.
- Suspension from the House of Commons for at least ten sitting days or 14 calendar days
A recall petition is initiated in such cases, allowing constituents to demand a by-election.
What are the benefits of recall petitions?
One of the key benefits of recall petitions is that they empower constituents to hold their MPs accountable between general elections. This ensures that elected representatives are aware of the consequences of their actions and are motivated to act in the best interests of their constituents. It also serves as a deterrent, discouraging MPs from engaging in unethical or illegal behaviour.
Recall petitions also contribute to the overall transparency and trustworthiness of the political system. They bridge the gap between the electorate and their representatives by allowing constituents to participate directly in decision-making. They provide a platform for constituents to express their dissatisfaction and demand change when necessary.
How many recall petitions have there been?
Since the introduction of the Recall of MPs Act in the United Kingdom, there have been several notable cases where MPs have faced the possibility of a by-election. These cases have garnered significant media attention and have sparked public debate on the importance of accountability in politics.
The first successful recall petition was held in Peterborough in 2019, when MP Fiona Onasanya received a three-month prison sentence for perverting the course of justice. A former Labour politician, she was removed when 27.6% of her constituents signed the petition. In the subsequent by-election, Labour candidate Lisa Forbes was elected.
In the most recent petition, former SNP MP Margaret Ferrier was suspended from the House of Commons for 30 days after she breached coronavirus rules by travelling from London to her Scottish constituency despite testing positive. 14.7% of her constituents signed the petition, and the by-election was held on 5th October, in which Labour candidate Michael Shanks was elected.
However, it is important to note that recall petitions should not be seen as a replacement for other forms of accountability, such as parliamentary inquiries or legal proceedings. They are intended to complement existing mechanisms and provide an additional avenue for constituents to voice their concerns.
In conclusion, recall petitions in the United Kingdom have emerged as a powerful tool for constituents to hold their MPs accountable. By providing a transparent and fair process, these petitions empower constituents to demand change and foster transparency in the political system.
While they are not a solution for all accountability issues, they play a crucial role in ensuring that elected representatives know the consequences of their actions. As the UK continues to refine its democratic processes, the scope of triggers of recall petitions could expand in the future, and constituents could have a more significant say in whether their MP continues their job.
You can learn more about recall petitions and their impact on democracy and participation as part of our UK politics course. This course allows you to learn in many different ways, including audio, video and text.