In interviews over the weekend Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell reiterated that Labour wants a general election to resolve the Brexit impasse. Would it? Could it?
Since the introduction of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act in 2011, calling an early general election has gotten a whole lot more complicated. I’ve tried to summarise the process in a little flow-chart pasted below this piece.
There are two routes to an early election under the Act.
The simple “early election” route
One has already been used—the simple “early election” route. This requires a motion to be passed in the House of Commons by two-thirds of all MPs (not just those present on the day). The wording specified in the Act is “That there shall be an early parliamentary general election.”
Theresa May used this route last year to call an early election and it easily reached the “two-thirds” vote because Labour and other opposition parties felt obliged to vote for it.
This showed that, in most circumstances, if the prime minister decides to go for an early election they can almost certainly get it through parliament—it’s hard to think of many circumstances where it would be blocked. It’s possible, but opposition parties would, in practice, be under immense political pressure to support it.
However, this isn’t symmetrical. If an opposition party put down the motion it is hard to see how it would get two-thirds of all MPs to vote for it. If Labour did it now it would need every opposition MP plus around 110 Tory or DUP MPs to back the motion to get it through. The chances of that happening are vanishingly small.
It is worth remembering this if there are murmurings from the Tory Brexiteers about siding with Labour to force an early election—given there’s only about 60 MPs in the European Research Group. In any case an election forced through with a split like that in the ranks would be suicidal for the Conservative Party.
The “confidence” route
The second route to an early election under the FTPA is through a motion of “no confidence.” The wording has to be “That this House has no confidence in Her Majesty’s Government.” This does not prevent other forms of confidence motion or censure, but anything else has zero legal import for calling an early election or not.
A “no confidence” motion requires only…