The prime minister in 2020 will have to set up a review committeeby Colin Talbot / May 31, 2018 / Leave a comment
The passing of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act in 2011 has engendered no end of confusion amongst politicians, commentators and even some legal analysts.
Many commentators who ought to know better have carried on talking about “votes of confidence” and “confidence and supply” as if nothing much has changed. This “the conventions still apply” attitude has been reinforced by Theresa May’s ability to call a general election in June 2017—almost three years earlier than the scheduled May 2020 vote.
But one little noticed provision of the Act could, just possibly, cause even more “fun and games” of a very different sort in the second half of 2020.
Section 7 of the Act requires the prime minister to make arrangements to carry out a review of the Act “between June and November 2020.” This would have been as the second cycle of five years had just started (May 2020) but now it almost falls in the middle of the second parliament elected under the terms of the Act (2015-17 and 2017-22).
This clause was inserted into the Act in 2011 after the House of Lords tried to insert a “sunrise” clause that would require every new parliament to renew the Act. The compromise was the 2020 “review.”
So the prime minister—whoever it is by then—is legally obliged to set up a review committee in the second half of 2020 to “if appropriate make recommendations for the repeal or amendment of the Act.” A majority of the committee must be MPs.
Obviously, it is impossible to predict what the political situation will be by then. We may, or may not, have left the European Union. We may, or may not, be in some sort of transitional limbo between “out” and “in.” Theresa May may, or may not, be PM (I’d lean towards the view she’ll be gone). And, indeed, we could even have had another general election (although in my humble opinion that is unlikely).
Let’s a have look a few scenarios.
The Tories, probably no-one recalls, did commit to getting rid of the FTPA in their 2017 Manifesto. As so much of that ill-fated document has been selectively dumped and the Maybot might have been decommissioned by 2020 anyway, that seems a fairly flimsy guide to what a Tory PM might actually do.
Remember, the FTPA was brought in to essentially protect a coalition government—both from the Opposition and from itself, or rather the parties that made it up.
If, by 2020, there is still a minority or even a coalition government it might be that the FTPA still seems useful. So if “PM2020” (whoever she/he is) still wants it, a perfunctory review of the FTPA would suffice to meet the requirement and recommend it carries on. End of.
“Repeal and replace” would be a bit more tricky (as someone on the other side of the pond has found out). It would take a strong and united government, or a sudden outbreak of constitutional political consensus, for that to happen—neither of which seems likely.
The likelihood is, then, that the FTPA will continue on—unchanged—after 2020. My guess is that the legally mandated review will either not happen at all (it wouldn’t be the first time a government simply ignored a bit of unenforceable legislation) or if it does it’ll be a low-level review of the “Sir Humphrey” kind, only set up to produce the answer you wanted in the first place.
But prediction is a mug’s game in today’s political environment. All we know for certain is that there is a legal commitment in the Act to a review in 2020. Who knows what it might trigger?