There is a lot of confusion around at the moment about the possibility of a new general election, with many – including politicians who should know better – saying the two-thirds majority required makes an election highly unlikely and some pivoting on that to claim a new referendum would be easier to achieve.
However, those claims are not correct. Assuming, of course, that Theresa May continues to ignore the need of the country and continues clinging to power instead of calling an election, a new election could be called by a simple majority in the House of Commons: half of MPs present for a vote, plus one.
The Fixed Term Parliaments Act 2011 (FTPA) does say that a motion to call a new election must be passed by two thirds of all the seats in Parliament – currently 650 – including vacant seats and Sinn Fein-held seats whose MPs do not sit in the House. A high bar indeed.
However, that is not the only option the FTPA includes.
Governments can also be brought down – and Parliaments ended – by a loss in a ‘confidence vote’, that is on one of the central matters governments must pass to govern, such as a Queen’s Speech, or by the government’s failure to win a specifically-proposed vote of no confidence:
(3) An early parliamentary general election is also to take place if—
(a) the House of Commons passes a motion in the form set out in subsection (4), and
(b) the period of 14 days after the day on which that motion is passed ends without the House passing a motion in the form set out in subsection (5).
(4) The form of motion for the purposes of subsection (3)(a) is—
“That this House has no confidence in Her Majesty’s Government.”
In simple terms, if a motion of no confidence in the government is tabled and the government loses, then Parliament has fourteen days in which to pass a new motion of confidence in the government – or there is a new general election.
The fourteen days are to allow the Opposition the opportunity to form a new government that the Commons will support – and if that does not happen, a new general election must follow.
But the most crucial factor in this option is that it requires only a ‘simple majority’ – in other words, half plus one of those voting and only those voting, not half of the number of all seats. The ‘two thirds’ requirement only applies to an ordinary motion to call a new election – such as Theresa May put to the Commons to call last year’s general election.
A new election is a simple majority away – and with Theresa May having lost the support of the DUP because of her decision to ignore them in the dismal ‘deal’ she has brought back from Brussels, there are no guarantees they will support her in such a vote of no confidence.
Many politicians are either ignorant of this fact – and are merely wrong – or are intentionally ignoring it because they would prefer a new Brexit referendum to a Corbyn-led Labour government.
Labour must call a vote of no confidence without delay.
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