During an interview on Sky News on Monday 12 June, following former Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s resignation as an MP, Labour MP and shadow secretary of state for business and industrial strategy Jonathan Reynolds said that a recall petition succeeds if “ten thousand constituents vote for it”.
This isn’t correct, and Mr Reynolds’ office has since told Full Fact that he misspoke. In order to succeed, a recall petition requires the signatures of 10% of the eligible registered electorate in an MP’s constituency.
Inaccurate claims about political processes such as recall petitions have the potential to affect people’s trust in these processes, and could impact how or if they choose to participate. While Mr Reynolds has acknowledged the error, we are not aware of any public correction having been made at the time of writing.
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What is a recall petition?
A recall petition is a mechanism by which an MP can be forced by voters to vacate their seat, triggering a by-election (which the recalled MP is then allowed to contest).
The procedure, which was introduced in 2015, can be implemented under three circumstances:
- Conviction in the UK of any offence resulting in a custodial sentence or detention, after all appeals have been exhausted (excluding detention solely under mental health legislation).
- Suspension from the House of Commons for at least 10 sitting days, or at least 14 calendar days if sitting days are not specified.
- Conviction of an offence under Section 10 of the Parliamentary Standards Act 2009 (making false or misleading Parliamentary allowances claims).
Mr Reynolds’ comments came as he was discussing Mr Johnson’s recent resignation from Parliament ahead of the publication of a report by the Privileges Committee on whether the former PM misled Parliament about what he knew about Covid-19 regulation breaches in Downing Street.
While the report is yet to be published, Mr Johnson’s resignation after receiving advance notice of its findings has been taken to imply that the committee will recommend a suspension of longer than 10 days, which would have allowed for a recall petition to be triggered.
There have been three recall petitions since the procedure was introduced in 2015, two of which were successful in triggering by-elections. A fourth recall petition in the seat of Rutherglen and Hamilton West is set to open on 20 June, after SNP MP Margaret Ferrier was suspended from the House of Commons for 30 days for breaching Covid-19 regulations in 2020.
Recall petitions are not held if a UK general election is due to take place in the next six months, if another recall petition of the same MP is already underway, or if the MP has already vacated their seat.
How many people need to sign a recall petition?
The threshold for a recall petition to succeed is 10% of eligible registered voters in the constituency. Eligible voters can sign a recall petition either at a designated signing place—similar to a polling station—in their constituency, or alternatively by post or by proxy.
The average parliamentary constituency size in England is approximately 73,000, compared to 68,300 in Scotland, 57,700 in Wales and 74,100 in Northern Ireland.
That means in most cases the threshold for a recall petition to succeed would be less than 10,000, as Mr Reynolds claimed.
Indeed, according to the Office for National Statistics, as of December 2022 only one constituency (the Isle of Wight), had more than 100,000 electoral registrations, and would therefore require at least 10,000 signatures for a recall petition to succeed.
In Uxbridge and South Ruislip—Mr Johnson’s constituency—there are approximately 66,000 registered voters, meaning the threshold for a successful recall petition would have been around 6,600.
However, given Mr Johnson has chosen to resign as an MP, a by-election will now take place in the seat without a recall petition.
Image courtesy of David Woolfall
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Following Mr Reynolds' acknowledgement of his error, we contacted him to request a correction regarding this claim.
Mr Reynolds did not respond to this.
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