Parties Politics

Are we heading towards a general election?

It is becoming ever more likely that a general election will be needed in order to break the current gridlock in Parliament. Here, we take a look at how a general election can actually come about.

It is becoming ever more likely that a general election will be needed in order to break the current gridlock in Parliament. Here, we take a look at how a general election can actually come about and whether or not any of the outcomes are likely to happen.

There are multiple means through which a general election can be called. The most traditional method is the automatic dissolving of Parliament every five years under the Fixed Term Parliaments Act 2011. However, in these uncertain times, some are calling for a general election to resolve parliamentary disagreements over Brexit before we hit 2022, the next legally scheduled date for a general election. There are two main ways that an election can be called; a period of 14 days where no government could win the confidence of the House (a process triggered by an official vote of no confidence in Johnson’s government) or two-thirds of all MPs voting to dissolve Parliament and for a general election to take place.

A general election can also be instigated through a successful vote of no confidence in the government. This is a motion that has to be tabled by the Leader of the Opposition, currently Jeremy Corbyn. If the vote is successful, Parliament then has 14 days to form a new government that could command a majority in a vote of no confidence. If this does not happen, a general election is called. The latest example of a vote of no confidence was in January when Corbyn tabled the motion following the history-breaking governmental loss over the Withdrawal Agreement although Theresa May survived the vote by a margin of 19. The last successful vote of no confidence in a government was in 1979 when Margaret Thatcher brought down the Labour-led government of James Callaghan.

Boris Johnson has vowed to take the UK out of the European Union “deal or no deal” by October 31 2019. This much we know. There are, however, plenty of MPs on both sides of the House of Commons that are preparing to do anything to stop this from happening. For any vote of no confidence to succeed, Jeremy Corbyn needs the support of the following parties:

  • Labour
  • the SNP
  • Plaid Cymru
  • the Liberal Democrats
  • Change UK

In addition to the above, Corbyn would also require the group of MPs known as ‘The Independents’, former-Labour Independent MPs (Frank Field, Chris Williamson, Ivan Lewis, Kelvin Hopkins and Ian Austin), at least five of the Conservative Independent MPs (Nick Boles, Charlie Elphicke and the 21 that were expelled from the party last Tuesday), former-Lib Dem MP Stephen Lloyd, Independent Lady Sylvia Hermon and the sole Green Party MP, Caroline Lucas, to all vote with him.

If (and at the moment that’s a big if) Corbyn does manage to unite the opposition under one banner, he is expected to request the extension of Article 50 now legally required under the Benn Bill and then call for an immediate general election.

James Callaghan was the last Prime Minister to be ousted by a vote of no confidence in Parliament. Source: BBC

The Prime Minister can lay down a motion calling for an early general election. The House of Commons will vote on the motion however, instead of a simple majority, it must receive the backing of two-thirds of all MPs to be enacted. Boris Johnson has already tried to call an election using this mechanism but with all of the opposition parties united against an election until an extension to Article 50 has been implemented, he fell far short of the 434 MPs required to trigger one. The monarch used to have the power to dissolve Parliament at their will, however the Fixed Term Parliaments Act 2011 removed that power.

Johnson has already stated his intent to try and use this mechanism again on Monday, however the opposition parties have signaled their intent to not allow any election before October 31. Following an extension to Article 50 (which would mean Britain would not leave the EU before January 31 2020), all parties have vowed to back calls for a general election. So to answer the question posited by the title of this article; we are indeed heading for a general election – although the question of when is unlikely to be resolved in the immediate future.

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