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I know that the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 says that

Early elections can be held only:

  • if a motion for an early general election is agreed either by at least two-thirds of the whole House or without division; or
  • if a motion of no confidence is passed and no alternative government is confirmed by the Commons within 14 days.

What is the minimum time frame that such early elections can be held? Based on Theresa May's snap elections, it seems that 6 weeks is the minimum, but is there any legal standard, or is it only tied to what Parliament itself will pass?

2 Answers 2

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In the words of the act

The polling day for the election is to be the day appointed by Her Majesty by proclamation on the recommendation of the Prime Minister.

In other words, the PM can decide the date of the election. However, "The Parliament then in existence dissolves at the beginning of the 17th working day before the polling day" (changed to "25th working day" by the Electoral Registration and Administration Act 2013), so a Prime Minister cannot call an election immediately. (Sat, Sun and bank holidays are not considered working days for this purpose)

There is no upper limit in the act for how long the PM can wait, however, she would be expected to name the date before, or at least soon after the passing of a motion calling an early general election.

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  • Of course, if the PM can get the agreement of Parliament, they can pass an act and declare that the election will take place the following day. (It is unlikely Parliament would agree to such a bill though.) Commented Nov 15, 2018 at 15:00
  • The Labour Party are already calling for an Election. If even a tiny number of Tory MPs will vote with Labour, such a Bill will easily be passed. It is not the Opposition who fear an election, since they have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
    – Ed999
    Commented Nov 16, 2018 at 15:42
  • The Opposition might be in a position to understand that there are specific seats vulnerable or that the party is widely unpopular for some reason or some event, then they might expect to lose more seats than they gain, no? Commented Dec 30, 2021 at 5:12
  • @robertbristow-johnson But even in those circumstances, if they appear to be afraid of an election then their popularity will decline further. It’s very hard for the Opposition to oppose an election.
    – Mike Scott
    Commented Dec 30, 2021 at 6:49
  • 1
    Note that "17th working day" was changed to "25th working day" by the Electoral Registration and Administration Act 2013. Commented Dec 30, 2021 at 21:07
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There is no minimum time-frame.

The Government may choose to introduce a Bill, to repeal the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, at any time. Government business managers could pass the measure through both Houses of Parliament within a week, at least if there is cross party support.

The Labour Party is most anxious to bring-on a General Election. It is inconceivable they would oppose such a Bill, which could probably make it onto the Statute Books within 48 hours in a case of urgency.

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  • Are you speaking in terms of the fixed-term parliament act, or in terms of the practical side of holding an election? On the latter front, there are a lot of different things interacting to give a minimum time frame. electoralcommission.org.uk/__data/assets/word_doc/0005/173066/…
    – origimbo
    Commented Nov 16, 2018 at 15:51
  • I'm considering the repeal of the Fixed Term Parliaments Act. Since the Opposition are always keen to hold a General Election, because they have nothing to lose, they will always vote for an election. Under the Act, Mrs May needs a minimum number of votes to hold an early election. But to repeal the Act needs far fewer votes. She would more easily obtain the repeal of the Act, because it needs fewer votes. With about 100 of her own MPs in open rebellion, she might find it more convenient to aim for the less ambitious objective of simply repealling the Act.
    – Ed999
    Commented Nov 28, 2018 at 0:55
  • "because they have nothing to lose": they have seats to lose, as well as credibility.
    – phoog
    Commented Dec 30, 2021 at 14:09
  • @Ed999 'May needs a minimum number of votes to hold an early election. But to repeal the Act needs far fewer votes.' Only if the House of Lords plays ball. Commented Dec 30, 2021 at 21:13

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