The Fixed Term Parliaments Act 2011 suspended the use of the Royal Prerogative, meaning that the Prime Minister can no longer use this power to dissolve Parliament and call an early election. There are, however, three options available to the Prime Minister to call a General Election before Thursday 7th May 2020.
Recent media speculation has stated that an election may be called for at the same time as Theresa May triggers Article 50, which was announced today as 29th March. As part of the Electoral Registration and Administration Act 2013 there is a minimum requirement of 25 business days (excluding public holidays) between the dissolution of Parliament and the holding of an election. For each model we therefore outline when an election could occur.
Early Election Motion
The Fixed Term Parliaments Act gives two specific exemptions to the five year restriction on elections. The first of these is that if the House of Commons passes a motion “That there shall be an early Parliamentary General Election on this specific date” by a majority of at least two thirds, then Parliament will be dissolved.
- This would require the Conservatives and Labour to agree to the date of an election, as well as agree that an election needs to be held.
- Jeremy Corbyn has previously stated that Labour would vote for an early election and is likely to have the support of enough MPs, particularly as many will risk losing their seats in boundary changes if the next election is held in 2020.
- Were the Prime Minister to propose a motion on the 29th March, the first potential date for an election would be Friday 5th May, though this would likely revert to Thursday 11th May to maintain the tradition of elections on Thursdays and would require the support of Labour.
Vote of No Confidence
The second alternative laid out by the Fixed Terms Parliaments Act, is that a new election can be called if the House of Commons passes a vote of no confidence in the Government by a majority of MPs.
- It would be possible for the Conservatives to call a motion of no confidence in their own Government. Historically however Governments that call votes of no confidence of themselves suffer election losses as the electorate turns against this display of naked ambition.
- Before an election date can be set there has to be a pause of 2 weeks to allow the House of Commons to rethink their decision. If a vote of confidence succeeds in these 14 days then Theresa May’s Government would remain in power.
- In this scenario the earliest possible date would be Friday the 19th May, or Thursday 25th May.
Repeal of the Fixed Term Parliaments Act
The most challenging option for the Government, and thus the least likely to be used is the option of repealing the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, this would require the Government to win a majority both in the House of Commons and the House of Lords to return Royal Prerogative powers to the Prime Minister, allowing a General Election to be called at any point.
- At present the Government has no majority in the House of Lords, which as shown by the Article 50 bill, could result in delays to the process.
- Even if the Government can pass the bill quickly through the House of Commons, it could take a minimum of six weeks to pass through both Houses of Parliament.
- In this scenario it could take until Thursday 11th May for the Prime Minister to regain power to call an election. Potentially making Thursday 22nd June the first date for an election.