Manchester Gorton by-election: returning officer says she has no power to cancel vote

Apparent confusion paves the way for the by-election to take place as planned

Tom Batchelor
Wednesday 19 April 2017 12:56 BST
Theresa May announces she will call for a snap general election on the steps of Downing Street
Theresa May announces she will call for a snap general election on the steps of Downing Street

A by-election scheduled to take place just a month before a general election called for 8 June could still go ahead after the council official in charge of the poll said she was unable to cancel it.

Voters are due to head to the polls in the Manchester Gorton by-election on 4 May, but the proximity to the snap vote demanded by Theresa May means the new MP would take up the seat without a Parliament to sit in.

The final sitting day available to the Commons is 2 May – and whoever won the vote would be forced to run again in the same constituency days later.

The decision to call for a general election in June has put the by-election in doubt and Commons Leader David Lidington told MPs on Tuesday it was up to the returning officer overseeing the vote to decide if it should be cancelled.

However, Manchester's acting returning officer Joanne Roney said she has no legal power to call the poll off.

House of Commons guidelines suggest the 4 May poll will be cancelled, and Cabinet member David Davis has said he expected it to be scrapped.

But the apparent confusion does now pave the way for the by-election to take place as planned.

Theresa May calls general election for June 8

Ms Roney said in a statement: “Since the Prime Minister's announcement yesterday regarding a general election on 8 June, we have been in active discussions with Government and the Electoral Commission about the implications for the Manchester Gorton parliamentary by-election, given Parliament would be dissolved by the date of poll.

“Legal advice has confirmed that as (Acting) Returning Officer I have no power in law to cancel the by-election in these circumstances.

“This matter has therefore been raised with parliamentary authorities to clarify the position as a matter of urgency should Parliament vote for an 8 June general election later today."

According to Mr Lidington, there was a precedent for the returning officer to cancel a by-election dating back nearly 100 years, as there was no legislative framework for the Government to scrap the vote.

“There is no statutory provision that provides for the cancellation of a by-election when a general election is in progress,” he said.

“It is up to the judgement of the acting returning officer, whom one might expect to regard the by-election writ as having been superseded.

“This was the course of action taken by the acting returning officer in the one precedent that I found, which is dating back to November 1923.”

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