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Resigning from the UK Parliament

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The United Kingdom is a parliamentary democracy in which the public elect Members of Parliament (MPs) to the House of Commons, while members of the House of Lords are mostly appointed; however, resigning from the UK Parliament is technically impossible because no law permits this.

Resigning from the House of Commons

The House of Commons is the elected lower house in the UK Parliament. Obviously, MPs can and do leave the Commons, for example in June 2008 when David Davis left the House to fight a by-election over the government's terrorism legislation. As resignation is not possible, there are only three ways to leave the Commons: death, the dissolution of Parliament when a general election is called, and disqualification. In the third case, MPs found guilty of electoral malpractice or serious crimes are thrown out of Parliament, either automatically (if convicted of a crime carrying more than a year's jail) or through the House moving to expel them, and similarly anyone who gains a job or position filled through ceremonial appointment by the monarch, such as a High Court judge, is also barred. If an MP becomes bankrupt, they are also disqualified until the bankruptcy is discharged.[1] MPs who wish to 'resign' can therefore be 'disqualified', side-stepping the lack of an explicit resignation procedure.

To step down, an MP is given a Crown appointment, which automatically disqualifies them from sitting in the House of Commons. Such a position, which carries no salary or responsibilities, is awarded by the Chancellor of the Exchequer - some recent recipients being former Prime Minister David Cameron,[2] and the then newly-elected Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan.[3]. These appointments are 'Crown Steward and Bailiff of the Three Hundreds of Chiltern' and 'Crown Steward and Bailiff of the Manor of Northstead'. Originally, these were very real positions, carrying with them land and revenue. The Crown Steward would have been responsible for land in Buckinghamshire (in the Chiltern Hills, 'hundred' being an old division of an English county) or Northstead, around Scalby - just outside Scarborough, North Yorkshire. Today, however, they exist purely as a device to allow MPs to leave the House of Commons, without ceremony, and are awarded on an alternating basis, with the previous appointee automatically losing the post. Boris Johnson's appointment as Crown Steward and Baliff of the Manor of Northstead released Peter Mandelson from the position, for example, but between Mandelson's and Johnson's departures was that of Tony Blair, who was given the Chiltern Hundreds title until David Davis left the Commons.

The system of disqualificationary appointments was tested in January 2011 when Gerry Adams submitted a resignation letter following his decision to step down as MP for Belfast West in order to contest a seat in the upcoming Irish general election. Adams, a republican whose party does not recognise British sovereignty in Northern Ireland, declined to apply for a Crown appointment which would have formally disqualified him from the position. However, the Treasury announced that Adams had been appointed Steward and Bailiff of the Manor of Northstead in any case.[4] Adams later denied that he had applied for or accepted any such role. The Speaker subsequently confirmed the appointment and that the Belfast seat had become vacant; it emerged that the Treasury had interpreted the resignation letter as an application for the appointment.[5]

Resigning from the House of Lords

The House of Lords is the upper house, with its members, known as 'peers', mostly appointed by a commission or through the recommendation of the Prime Minister. 'Hereditary' peers, who have inherited their title and the right to sit in the Lords, can renounce the peerage within a year of inheriting it; appointees cannot step down at all. These 'life peers', like other members, are not obligated to attend the House, and do not represent a parliamentary constituency. If an MP is appointed to the House of Lords, they are automatically disqualified from the Commons.

Footnotes

  1. House of Commons Information Office: 'Disciplinary and Penal Powers of the House'. .pdf document.
  2. HM Treasury: 'Manor of Northstead Manor of Northstead: David Cameron.' 12th September 2016.
  3. UK Parliament: 'Sadiq Khan resigns as MP for Tooting'. 10th May 2016.
  4. HM Treasury: 'Manor of Northstead'. 26th January 2011.
  5. BBC News: 'John Bercow says Gerry Adams is not an MP'. 26th January 2011.

See also