What does it mean to lose the whip, and how can MPs be removed?


eputy chief whip Chris Pincher resigned on Thursday following claims that he groped two men.

It was reported that he assaulted two men at the Tory private members’ club, the Carlton Club, on Wednesday. He admitted in his resignation letter that he had “embarrassed myself and other people” after having had “far too much” to drink.

Two senior female Conservatives have called for Pincher to be suspended as a Tory MP while an investigation is carried out into groping claims, while Chief Whip Chris Heaton-Harris and other senior party figures will decide whether to take any disciplinary action against him.

But what are whips and what does it mean to lose the whip?

What are whips?

Whips are Members of Parliament or Members of the House of Lords appointed by each party.

It is their job to “help organise their party’s contribution to parliamentary business, including “making sure the maximum number of their party members vote, and vote the way their party wants,” according to the UK Parliament.

Whips ensure that their members vote following their party’s agenda. They are especially important when the government has a small majority and could be more likely to lose in votes.

What is ‘The Whip’?

“The whip” refers to two different things.

Firstly, “The Whip” is a weekly message about the upcoming parliamentary business that the whips send out to their MPs or Lords.

It will tell the politicians how they should vote or will tell them that they have to vote.

The importance of the vote is designated by the number of underlines–with three underlines being the most serious. This is called a three-line whip, and defying it is very serious.

But the whip has another definition when it’s referred to as “losing the whip.”

What does it mean to lose the whip?

MPs can “lose the whip” when they defy their party. It means that they are expelled from the party.

However, they do not lose their position as MPs, but they will sit as an independent member until the whip is restored.

In 2019, 21 Tory MPs voted to block a no-deal Brexit, going against the Conservative Party and Boris johnson. Winston Churchill’s grandson Sir Nicholas Soames and Ken Clarke–who had been a Tory MP for 49 years–were among those who had the whip removed.

The former Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, lost the whip in 2020 over his response to the equalities watchdog’s report into antisemitism in the party.

How can MPs be removed?

MPs can be removed in a recall election, which was introduced in the UK in 2015 in response to the MPs’ expenses scandal in the run-up to the 2010 General Election.

There are three circumstances in which an MP can be recalled:

  • If they have been convicted of any offence and sentenced or ordered to be imprisoned or detained. (If an MP is sentenced to more than 12 months in jail they are automatically disqualified)
  • If they are suspended from the House following a report and the Committee on Standards recommends a sanction for at least 10 sitting days.
  • If they are convicted of an offence under section 10 of the Parliamentary Standards Act 2009, which means making false or misleading Parliamentary allowances claims.

The recall election involves a petition, which will be open to constituents for six weeks. If 10% of eligible registered voters sign the petition, the MP loses their seat and a by-election will be called.


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