There has been much speculation that an incoming prime minister (be it Gove, May or one of the other candidates) will want to call an early General Election (to establish legitimacy and perhaps to capitalise on the Labour Party's divisions)

Is this a realistic proposition? Can a General Election be called by a new Prime Minister?


3 Answers 3


In effect, yes.

The PM can't simply announce a general election purely on their own authority, but they can file a motion of no confidence in their own government in the Commons, and then instruct their MPs to vote for it.

This would cause a general election.

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    Presumably the fixed term parliament act could be repealed under the regular commons process by a government with a working majority, or have any constitutional scholars said differently? This would avoid the bizarre sight of a government voting that it had no confidence in itself, while the opposition voted that it did.
    – origimbo
    Jul 1, 2016 at 10:35
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    @origimbo The fixed term parliament act could definitely be repealed by Parliament, because of Parliamentary sovereignty - "no Parliament can pass a law that future Parliaments cannot change" parliament.uk/about/how/role/sovereignty
    – A E
    Jul 1, 2016 at 11:02
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    @origimbo The House of Lords can delay most legislation for a year (including an FTPA repeal), so the regular Commons-only process is very slow. They cannot delay a motion of no confidence.
    – cpast
    Jul 1, 2016 at 13:18
  • Is there any example of a government in any country instructing their own MPs to vote for a motion of no confidence? That seems highly unorthodox. There is a mechanism for parliament to call an election with a majority of 2/3, without it being a motion of no confidence. To try to circumvent this is constitutionally dubious.
    – James K
    Jul 6, 2016 at 18:21
  • @JamesKilfiger, it certainly would be unorthodox. And embarrassing. Technically possible though. The two-thirds majority is far more likely, I agree - but as a decision wouldn't be solely down to the PM (unless the government had a two-thirds majority all by itself, which I don't think it does). But it's hard to imagine an opposition voting to keep a government in power, even if the election timing wasn't great for them.
    – A E
    Jul 7, 2016 at 19:22

The Prime Minister can no longer call a General Election, due to the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act 2011. The Act has a sunset clause, and a committee must report at some point between 1 June 2020 and 30 November 2020.

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    The Conservatives have a majority. They could choose to amend or repeal the Act.
    – Alex
    Jul 1, 2016 at 8:47
  • A couple of sites have useful discussions on the technical aspects of the FTPA: ukconstitutionallaw.org/2014/11/19/… and nortonview.wordpress.com/2016/06/27/an-early-general-election
    – Daria
    Jul 1, 2016 at 12:34
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    The requirement for a review in 2020 is not a sunset clause; it merely requires the PM to "make arrangements...for a committee to carry out a review of the operation of [the] Act". Jul 1, 2016 at 15:18
  • @SteveMelnikoff: yes, you are right. Apologies to all for this error.
    – Daria
    Jul 1, 2016 at 20:59
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    Clearly, May has called an extra general election, so this answer cannot be correct.
    – gerrit
    Jun 7, 2017 at 17:25

Summarising the comments in a community wiki

The fixed term Parliament act does not allow for the Prime Minister to call a general election without first consulting Parliament. If a Prime Minister wished to call a general election before the set period of 5 years, she would have four options:

  • Attempt to pass a resolution through commons calling a general election. This would require a two-thirds supermajority, so would normally require the support of opposition parties. (This may happen if the opposition feel that the damage they would suffer from refusing an election, and appearing "scared of the electorate" is worse than the damage they would suffer from going to the polls early)

  • Pass a motion of no-confidence in her own government. This would be extremely unorthodox and would leave her open to criticism that she was "gaming" the system.

  • Get parliament to repeal the Fixed-term parliaments act. This would be normal repeal bill, and so would be subject to a simple majority in the commons and lords, but could be delayed by the lords, in the normal way.

  • Pass a one-line bill which states "notwithstanding the fixed term parliament act, there will be an election". This would only need a simple majority to pass, but would have to be approved by both houses of parliament.

The first option seems the most likely, but this has never been tried.

  • According to the BBC, the first option may happen without repealing the FTPA, simply passing a bill calling a general election on a specific date.
    – JJJ
    Oct 28, 2019 at 23:31

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