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When will there be a general election?

MPs are split over when the next election should take place—and, surprise, it's all down to Brexit

By Prospect Team  

When will there be a general election? Photo: PA

UPDATE: Parliament will now be suspended from the end of September 9 to October 14, effectively ruling out on October election. The below details on different ways on bringing about an election still stand, however.

This week, amongst a slew of lost votes, prime minister Boris Johnson put forward a motion under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act for a general election.

This mechanism is designed so that 2/3rds of the house must vote in favour of an election for one to go ahead.

The result of the vote fell far short of that, with most Labour MPs abstaining.

But one could still happen?

Johnson now says he will seek an election again on Monday. This is also unlikely to pass, however.

How come?

At the moment, different parties say different things. While the SNP, Labour and the Liberal Democrats agree that they do not want an election before October 17—the date on which a summit of EU leaders is set to meet—they are divided over when they would like one to take place.

Labour says it will not vote for an election until a bill passes legally binding the PM to ask for a Brexit extension. At a meeting yesterday of Jeremy Corbyn and Ian Blackford, the SNP’s Westminster leader, they discussed potentially triggering a vote of no confidence in Johnson’s government on Monday.

If it results in an election, this would mean on a vote at the end of October—after Johnson is forced to ask for an extension but before the current Brexit date of 31st October.

The Liberal Democrats, however, do not want to trigger an election until after the EU has agreed to such an extension.

What’s more, many rebel Tories do not want an election at all. They hope that instead Johnson will either put May’s withdrawal agreement back to the Commons, or call for a second referendum to break the deadlock.

How would the vote of no confidence work?

Unlike a motion under the FTPA, a vote of no confidence requires only a simple majority, i.e. half the MPs in the House of Commons. The magic number here is 318: just over half of the 635 MPs who vote in the house (seven Sinn Féin MPs do not take their seats).

If the 21 Tory rebels backed Corbyn and Blackford’s proposal, this would trigger a two-week period during which first the current government, then the Opposition, is given an opportunity to form a government in which the House does have confidence. 

If this did happen, therefore, Johnson could theoretically get a majority of MPs to support him and stay in power (it would be, er, unexpected, for instance, if the 21 MPs formerly known as Conservatives backed Jeremy Corbyn to become Prime Minister).

Are there other ways an election could be held?

A one-line bill could be introduced, saying that notwithstanding the FTPA, the next election will happen on [insert date here]. Vernon Bogdonor, constitutional expert and frequent Prospect contributor, says in this case a date would need to be named.

However, this type of bill is amendable, so in theory, the date could be changed. This means that Labour could potentially change the date of any election to after October 31, meaning Johnson is first compelled to seek an extension.

So, which date are we heading for?

It’s highly unlikely Monday’s FTPA motion will pass. As the Sun’s “chicken” front page reminded us (warning: alarming Photoshop work), the government is hoping to goad Labour into feeling as if it must back an election. But although it’s certainly unusual to see an Opposition not push for a general at the earliest possible opportunity, it seems they’re sticking to their guns for now.

The rebel bill to force Johnson to ask for an extension, meanwhile, will likely pass through the House of Lords imminently, after a deal was struck by the whips to not impede its passage (some Conservatives were set to filibuster it).

Other than that, further discussions will take place today and over the weekend. We may have a clearer idea of what will happen next after that. Or, we may not.

Basically, we don’t know. 

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