Why is Margaret Ferrier still an MP and how does a recall petition work?

Despite widespread condemnation after admitting to travelling from London to Glasgow on the train with a positive Covid-19 test, Margaret Ferrier remains an MP earning more than £80,000 per year.

Monday, 12th October 2020, 12:30 pm
Margaret Ferrier is facing calls for her to quit as an MP
Margaret Ferrier is facing calls for her to quit as an MP

The politician has been suspended from the SNP, had the whip withdrawn meaning she now sits as an independent and has been told to stand down from the House of Commons by her former party and Nicola Sturgeon.

However, Ms Ferrier has so far refused to quit as an MP and has said she has no plans to do so, with some critics calling for a recall petition to force her from her seat in Rutherglen and Hamilton West.

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How does a recall petition work?

A recall procedure – where the electorate can force a by-election – was introduced in the UK in 2015 as a reaction to the expenses scandal for MPs in the run up to the 2010 General Election.

However, it is only able to be used in certain situations and does not constitute an automatic right for voters to force the recall of an unpopular MP.

MPs can only be recalled in three circumstances:

If an MP is convicted of a crime and sentenced to less than one year of prison time (any longer and they are automatically disqualified from being an MP) and all potential appeal routes have been exhausted. If an MP has breached the Code of Conduct for MP’s and after a report by the Committee on Standards, a recall petition begins if the MP is suspended from the House of Commons for at least two weeks (10 sitting days of parliament or 14 days in total). If the MP is convicted of a crime under section 10 of the Parliamentary Standards Act 2009, which covers instances where false or misleading parliamentary allowance claims are made by an MP.

Once one of the above conditions have been met, the Speaker of the House of Commons notifies the ‘petitions officer’, who is usually the returning officer in a constituency.

The petition is then opened ten days later, with it being available for signing for six weeks.

The petition is only successful if 10 per cent of the electorate sign the petition, or in Margaret Ferrier’s case, around 8,000 voters. If the petition is successful, a by-election is held.

The MP which is subject to the petition can stand in the by-election, but may not be chosen by their party as their candidate and forced to stand as an independent.

A brief history of recall petitions

Recall petitions have been used three times since their introduction, with two successfully unseating the MP at the centre of the controversy.

In 2018, Ian Paisley (DUP) was subject to a petition after breaching the Code of Conduct which was not signed by enough voters.

In March 2019, Fiona Onasanya (Lab) was subject to a successful recall petition after she was sentenced to three months in prison after being convicted for perverting the course of justice. Her recall petition was successful and a Labour candidate won the subsequent by-election.

In August 2019, Chris Davies (Con) was convicted of claiming false expenses. His recall petition was successful and despite contesting the by-election, he lost to the Liberal Democrat candidate Jane Dodds.

The Conservatives then regained the seat in the 2019 General Election.

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