Is there going to be another election this year?

Our Chief Political Commentator explains the rules on when the next election should be held

John Rentoul
Friday 09 June 2017 19:10
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Given the fragility of Theresa May’s win, voters would be forgiven for thinking that another election might be heading their way sooner rather than later. But, while a deal between Theresa May and the DUP may not be strong, it is reasonably stable.

The DUP is a conservative, pro-Brexit party, described as “friends and allies” by Ms May in her speech today. There would be no need for a new election as long as the DUP is happy – and why shouldn’t it be, now that it has direct leverage over the Government?

What if the Conservative-DUP deal broke down, though?

If, despite the DUP’s incentive to make a deal with Theresa May work, the Prime Minister would have little choice but to propose an early election. She could try to do a deal with the Liberal Democrats, but they are most unlikely to agree, after getting stung for going into coalition 2010-15.

Theoretically, Jeremy Corbyn could then invite all the non-Conservative parties, including the DUP, to support his programme. But the DUP is unlikely to agree. Arlene Foster, the party leader, made it clear on election night that she would find it hard to work with Mr Corbyn because of what she called his “support for the IRA”.

So what are the procedures for an early election?

As long as the Fixed-term Parliaments Act is on the statute book, there are two ways to have an early election. One is to have a two-thirds vote of MPs, which is how it happened last time, because Theresa May announced the election and dared Labour to vote for it or look as if it was afraid of the people.

The other is for the Government to table a motion of no confidence in itself, which would look odd. It is a provision of the Act designed to allow a government to be voted down, and provides two weeks for other parties to try to form a government (which they wouldn’t be able to do as long as the DUP refused to deal with them). That would require only a simple majority, rather than two-thirds.

What about repealing the Fixed-term Parliaments Act?

The Conservatives pledged to get rid of it in their manifesto, but the House of Lords would have to agree. The Lords may not do that, because Liberal Democrat peers, in particular, see it as a constraint on prime ministerial power. And because Ms May failed to win a majority, the Lords would not be bound by the Salisbury Convention that they do not obstruct manifesto promises.

So when will the next election be?

Under the Act, the next election should be held on 5 May 2022. Despite Ms May’s brave words outside No 10 about carrying out her programme “over the next five years”, it does not seem likely that she will last that long. At some point there will probably be a new prime minister, but after Ms May’s humiliating experience, it is unlikely that this new leader would want to go to the country early. Still, what an irony it would be if they asked the House of Commons to vote for an early election soon after leaving the EU in 2019, say in 2020, which is when the election was going to be before Ms May made her fateful decision on that walking holiday in the Welsh mountains.

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