Let's say 2 parties formed a coalition.

What is the binding nature of such a coalition? What prevents one party from reneging on parts or entirety of the agreement?

What are the worst consequences that the other party can visit on reneging party aside from "we'll get you, and your little dog too, the next election"?

(I'm ignoring game theoretical "they want to not be ignored the next election around" theoretical arguments which are obvious)

  • Off the top of my head if a coalition agreement involves joint pairing then one member may withdraw from that joint agreement inflicting serious pain on the other party's members lives. – Samuel Russell Jun 9 '17 at 17:52
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    @SamuelRussell: no; pairing is specifically an agreement between two MPs of opposing parties, who would normally vote in the opposite way to each other. – Steve Melnikoff Jun 10 '17 at 15:23

No more or less binding than any agreement.

The parties form a coalition because it is mutually beneficial. The larger party gets a majority in parliament. The smaller party gets power and influence that it would otherwise not have.

If a party reneges on the agreement it loses the benefits: the larger party would lose its majority, the smaller would get kicked out of government.

If a party decides that breaking a coalition would be in its benefit, there is nothing the other party can do to stop it. This most likely to arise when the large party has a choice of partners.

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    You might want to consider the wording of your first sentence. There are legally binding agreements (i.e. contracts) but to be enforceable they need to meet criteria that a coalition agreement wouldn't. – origimbo Jun 10 '17 at 15:58
  • I chose the word "agreement" to indicate that a coalition is an agreement, not a contract. – James K Jun 10 '17 at 22:17

In general, coalition agreements are structured so as to provide current benefits to both parties. For example, DUP (Democratic Unionist Party) could vote for Theresa May to be Prime Minister. In exchange, May appoints a DUP member as Home Secretary. If DUP then votes May out, their member would no longer be Home Secretary. If May fires their member, they can then issue a vote of no confidence, presumably with the support of the opposition, and effectively fire May.

That would be an example of how a coalition agreement could work. In the current actuality, they seem to be working at a lower level. DUP would rather May than Corbyn as Prime Minister. So they'll vote together on that issue. They may vote separately on other issues. They are not formally joining in a coalition.

To use a United States example, Bernie Sanders and Angus King caucus with the Democrats despite being elected as independents. This gives the Democrats two more votes for procedural issues like choosing the Majority Leader. In return, the Democrats give them committee assignments. The Democrats could kick them out of their committee assignments, but then they would be free to vote with the Republicans on Majority Leader.

Overall, they vote with the Democrats enough that it is to the Democrats' advantage to support them. And vice versa. But neither side has any legal obligation to support the other. That arrangement could collapse at any time. For example, Joe Lieberman was elected as an independent and caucused with the Democrats. But they ran a candidate against him and won.

  • This is a fair answer, but is not quite right on the specifics in the first paragraph. Unlike other countries, there is no vote on choosing a PM, but a coalition partner (or confidence & supply partner) would vote with the government on the Queen's Speech, which is the closest the Commons gets to approving a PM. Also, besides a confidence motion, there is no mechanism for voting May out - but a coalition would fall apart if the junior partner did something which was clearly against the letter or spirit of any agreement, such as voting en masse against the government on key legislation, etc. – Steve Melnikoff Jun 10 '17 at 19:32

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