At one time the answer would have been simple - a general elction would have ensued.

However under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act a two-thirds majority is required to trigger a general election.

It is my understanding that a different government has to be installed within 14 days. In the present circumstances is there any order of priority in which the Queen would call potential Prime Ministers to the Palace? Would it have to begin with the Leader of the Opposition?

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    While a vote of no confidence could happen if the vote on the Brexit deal fails, it's not a given - so the question is currently somewhat hypothetical. So, are you asking what happens if the Brexit deal is rejected, or is this a more general question on what happens if a government loses a confidence vote? Nov 27, 2018 at 10:16
  • @SteveMelnikoff If the Withdrawal deal is rejected, two weeks today -11 December- as most observers currently expect will happen, it would seem quite likely to me that the Opposition would put down a motion of no confidence. (If a government has been defeated on its most important policy, how can it be avoided). Of course the Conservative rebels and the DUP could come to TM's aid and ensure she survives the vote of confidence (that raises different questions about what might happen next). But my concern here is as to what happens if the government is defeated.
    – WS2
    Nov 27, 2018 at 10:32
  • It is unlikely that Tory MPs voting against the Brexit deal would also vote for a motion of no confidence, because they have nothing to gain from doing that. A GE won't help them, they would prefer May to either continue and get a better deal or to have an internal Tory leadership contest. A GE simply risks them losing seats and Labour gaining power.
    – user
    Nov 27, 2018 at 10:41
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    @DrunkCynic My understanding is that asking what the rules governing the situation are is on topic, speculation on what events will occur in the grey areas is off topic. I'm not sure if there's a duplicate to the priority question.
    – origimbo
    Nov 27, 2018 at 14:04
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    @DrunkCynic the question could be rephrased to remove the date references. What happens following a vote of no-confidence with respect to the 14 day period and who is able to attempt to win a follow on confidence vote seems a good one. There is no need for it to be tied specifically to the Brexit Deal vote, but that is the most obvious current trigger event.
    – Jontia
    Nov 27, 2018 at 14:58

2 Answers 2


In the event of a vote of no confidence a government has 14 days to win another one. It can be the same government that lost, or any group of MPs that commands enough of a majority to win a motion of confidence. If they can do so then they may continue governing, if not a general election is automatically triggered.

This was all by convention prior to 2011, when the Fixed Term Parliament Act wrote it into law.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Motions_of_no_confidence_in_the_United_Kingdom http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2011/14/enacted https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/60641/cabinet-manual.pdf#page=22

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    That should be a government, not the government (that is to say, the new government doesn't have to contain any of the members of the previous one).
    – origimbo
    Nov 27, 2018 at 10:49
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    I think "the" is correct, because it's not like the opposition could just say "okay, we are in charge now, we are having a confidence vote and will then govern". The government that lost the vote, as an institution, is the one that can select new leaders and ministers by whatever mechanism the party/coalition has.
    – user
    Nov 27, 2018 at 10:55
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    Umm, I think they could, provided they could produce a working coalition to win the vote. That's kind of the whole point of the 14 days. Of course, the current Labour Party seat share is probably too small to make this workable right now.
    – origimbo
    Nov 27, 2018 at 11:02
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    By being recognised by the Crown (through having a leader called to the palace as someone who holds the confidence of parliament and will thus be PM) and parliament (by winning the vote of confidence). bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-46288429
    – origimbo
    Nov 27, 2018 at 11:16
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    @gerrit At the moment a heavily-whipped "anti-confidence front" has potentially 308 seats - Labour 257, SNP 35, LibDem 12, Plaid Cymru 4. To win a majority it only needs 321 (allowing for the Speaker and Sinn Fein, who do not vote). So on that basis Labour would only have to take 13 seats off the Conservatives, and other things remain equal for a no-confidence motion to succeed. And that is assuming that there were no Tories prepared to vote against the whip - Anna Soubry? Sarah Woolaston? Dominic Grieve? Phillip Lee?
    – WS2
    Nov 29, 2018 at 9:06

In the present circumstances is there any order of priority in which the Queen would call potential Prime Ministers to the Palace?

This is answered in the Cabinet Manual mentioned in user's answer. Some relevant quotes:

In modern times the convention has been that the Sovereign should not be drawn into party politics, and if there is doubt it is the responsibility of those involved in the political process, and in particular the parties represented in Parliament, to seek to determine and communicate clearly to the Sovereign who is best placed to be able to command the confidence of the House of Commons. As the Crown’s principal adviser this responsibility falls especially on the incumbent Prime Minister, who at the time of his or her resignation may also be asked by the Sovereign for a recommendation on who can best command the confidence of the House of Commons in his or her place.


Under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011, if a government is defeated on a motion that ‘this House has no confidence in Her Majesty’s Government’, there is then a 14-day period during which an alternative government can be formed from the House of Commons as presently constituted, or the incumbent government can seek to regain the confidence of the House. If no government can secure the confidence of the House of Commons during that period, through the approval of a motion that ‘this House has confidence in Her Majesty’s Government’, a general election will take place.


Where a range of different administrations could be formed, discussions may take place between political parties on who should form the next government.

In other words, it is the responsibility of the outgoing Prime Minister to recommend to the Queen who she should invite to form a new government. The PM's recommendation may be delayed until any discussions within and between parties have made some progress.

This happened (albeit under different circumstances) in 2010, when Gordon Brown stayed on as PM for a few days after losing the election, until it became clear that the Conservatives and Lib Dems were about to form a coalition with a majority in the Commons.

  • It's worth adding that the most prominent example of uncertainty as to who should be called to form a government when an existing PM resigned occurred when McMillan stood aside to due ill health. The archaic procedures the Conservative party had for selecting a leader meant he had no clear successor. In the end the problem was resolved when the Queen acted on McMillan's suggestion and asked Alec Douglas-Home (then Lord Home) to form a government.
    – stuart10
    Nov 28, 2018 at 8:59

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