As some of you may know, as a result of the Panama Papers leak, David Cameron admitted that he profited from his father's Panama offshore trust.

Among much confusion and anger, some members of the public have been protesting and pushing for his resignation.

And although in the UK, General Elections occur once every 5 years and the next General Election is to be held in 2020, a petition has been created requesting for a General Election to be held at a much sooner date; namely, this year.

Can we as a people legally request and succeed in holding a General Election like this under these circumstances?

  • The public have never had an ability to force re-elections of anyone, even a single MP, other than coercion such as a general strike.
    – pjc50
    Apr 8, 2016 at 21:23

4 Answers 4


Under the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act 2011, an election may be held early in only three cases:

  • A vote of no confidence passes; in this case, a 14-day clock starts. If, by the end of the 14 days, a motion that the House of Commons has confidence in the government passes, then there's no election. If no government succeeds in forming and gaining confidence in two weeks, there's an election.
  • The House of Commons, by a two-thirds majority, votes to hold an early election.
  • The Fixed-Term Parliaments Act is repealed/modified (this isn't a provision of the Act, it just applies to all legislation).

A petition cannot possibly force early elections. It could sway Parliament, but if the Tories stay united and don't want a dissolution then there will be no dissolution. The Queen used to have the power to dissolve Parliament, and could theoretically do it against the advice of the PM if she wanted to cause a constitutional crisis (Canada and Australia both saw uses of reserve powers in the 20th century, and both were very controversial); however, this is no longer possible after the FTPA. The Queen still has the power to dismiss the PM and appoint a new one, but again, this is a theoretical power more than a real one.

  • 2
    You forgot civil war! But then again the British are not good at that
    – Ed Heal
    Apr 8, 2016 at 22:07
  • 3
    Of course, the Queen could deliberately appoint a PM unable to obtain the confidence of Parliament (e.g. a member of a minority party), which would practically amount to the same thing as dissolving Parliament. In the Australia case, the GG did obtain a recommendation to dissolve Parliament from the caretaker PM before doing so.
    – Kevin
    Apr 9, 2016 at 1:05
  • On an unrelated note, based on this answer I went researching what, exactly, ties the hands of the Queen. It looks to me like it goes back to the Coronation Oath's line about governing by Parliament's laws and statutes (and it's modern equivalent). Yay for learning!
    – Bobson
    Apr 10, 2016 at 2:30
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    I am intrigued by section 7 of The Fixed-Term Parliaments Act legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2011/14/section/7/enacted My reading is that arrangements to set up a reviewing committee of the Act must be made between 1 June-30 November 2020 but makes no similar requirement for an end date.
    – Daria
    Apr 10, 2016 at 14:37
  • en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Motion_of_no_confidence provides additional information regarding motions of no confidence in the UK, and the circumstances under which these motions may be passed. May 7, 2016 at 11:55

No. Although there is a petition system in the United Kingdom, where such a petition is already being made, it is not binding.

  • Even when a petition reaches the required number of signatures, the petition committee of the parliament will only consider putting it up for debate in parliament.
  • Being put up for debate means just that: the parliament will have a discussion about it, nothing more. It does not mean that any MP will consider turning it into a proper act to vote on.
  • And even when someone decides to do that, the parliament will vote on it as usual and can decide to dismiss it.

By the way, demanding a new general election because people are unhappy with the prime minister does not make much sense, because the prime minister is not elected by the general public. The general public vote the members of the parliament and then the parliament decides who becomes prime minister (technically the monarch decides, but practically they always pick the one the parliament wants). So when the UK public wants a new prime minister, they should petition the parliament to ask the queen to appoint someone else. A reelection does not necessarily reach that goal because the new parliament could just pick the same prime minister again.

  • 1
    "the largest party decides who becomes prime minister" -- there's a little more to it than that. The procedure is that a party or coalition that has the support of a majority of MPs can form a government. It's not required that the largest party is included in that government, although it does most commonly work out that way. In 1923, the Conservatives had the most seats but were not part of the resulting government, since Labour+Liberal had a majority. But Liberal support for Ramsey MacDonald's government didn't last, and they voted no confidence in 1924. Apr 8, 2016 at 21:54
  • Many countries with parliamentary systems have the PM voted in by a coalition of parties. While the party with the largest number of seats is usually asked to try to form the coalition, there have been cases in which a party with a lower number of seats actually forms the coalition with the largest number of total votes. Apr 12, 2016 at 13:00

The UK Government responded:

The accusations made about the Government and Prime Minister in this petition are wrong, and the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act means no Government can call an early general election any more anyway.

The Government and Prime Minister have never sought to mislead the public. Nonetheless, the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act, which came into force in 2011 under the Coalition Government, removed the power to set the general election date, and therefore to call an early general election, from the Government and gave a power to the House of Commons to call an early general election in certain circumstances.

An early general election can only be called under the Act if either a motion (as worded in section 2(2) of the Act) that there shall be an early parliamentary general election is passed by the House of Commons with at least two thirds in favour of the motion; or if a motion of no confidence (as worded in section 2(4) of the Act) is passed by the House of Commons and the House does not pass a motion of confidence (as worded in section 2(5) of the Act) in the Government or an alternative Government within 14 days. Aside from these triggers there is no way to replace the Government through an early General Election.

Cabinet Office

  • This is interesting in that the second part of the first paragraph whilst strictly accurate is in practice completely wrong as shown by the 2017 general election, which is made clear later. But it seems odd to boldly state something and then explain why that statement is irrelevant.
    – Jontia
    Feb 1, 2019 at 10:07

The over-riding issue with fixed-term Parliaments is the problem of entrenchment. In the constitution of the United Kingdom it is very difficult, if not near impossible, to entrench and make permanent any legislation. This is due to one of the core constitutional features; the doctrine of Parliamentary sovereignty. The classical statement of Parliamentary sovereignty was provided by A.V Dicey, whom said that there are three main principles; firstly, Parliament can make or unmake any law; secondly, no Parliament can bind a future Parliament; and thirdly, no person or body can question the validity of an Act of Parliament.There are also two corollaries to these principles; the first is the Doctrine of Implied Repeal.This states that if two Acts of Parliament are incompatible, the later Act will prevail over the earlier one; and the second corollary is the Enrolled Bill Rule.It is clearly the Government’s will that the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act 2011 is followed not just by this Parliament, but also by those to follow. Indeed, as Young points out the title includes the word Parliaments (in the plural) as opposed to Parliament (in the singular).

However, the Government’s will does not necessarily count for much. The second principle of Parliamentary sovereignty, namely that no Parliament can bind its successors (or even, for that matter, itself) is crucial.If the Act can be repealed by a later Parliament, or even the current Parliament, then how can it possibly be constitutionally significant? Hazell contends that any future Government and Parliament would certainly not be bound to observe the new law or retain it.

This being said, can the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act 2011 be considered binding on future parliament to come and is it even a significant Act as certain claims it to be?

Source: Thomas Fairclough, 'The Fixed-Term Parliaments Act 2011: Any Constitutional Significance?' (Academia.edu, 2017)

  • I actually like this answer. It alludes to the single principle of the United Kingdom's constitution - Parliamentary Sovereignty. In reality - nothing else matters because everything in within the control of Parliament - everything else is convention which can be overridden by Parliamentary Statute - albeit in a "non-binding on future parliaments" manner. Not sure it completely answers the question - but +1 nonetheless. Apr 20, 2017 at 10:33
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    -1 The entire answer is copy-pasted from the document you claim as a "reference". Jun 9, 2017 at 22:41
  • 1
    It is also not an answer to the question. Can a petition force a General Election? No, of course not. Can they request one? Yes of course - there is nothing to stop them asking. Jun 26, 2017 at 14:30

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