If the House of Commons votes No Confidence in the government then a general election follows (IIRC the last time this happened was 1979, resulting in the election of Mrs Thatcher).

But Jeremy Corbyn has said that he will propose a motion of No Confidence in the Prime Minister. Suppose this motion succeeds. What does this mean? Must the PM resign?

  • 2
    "...then a general election follows": not immediately. Under the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, a new government (which may or may not be of the same party as the previous one) has 2 weeks to win a confidence vote. If that fails, then there's an election. Commented Dec 18, 2018 at 9:29

3 Answers 3


Jeremy Corbyn has proposed that there is a non-binding vote in Parliament on the Prime Minister. This is not the no-confidence motion that would lead to an election. The vote would have no required effect.

Corbyn is suggesting this for a couple of reasons. First, as Laura Kunnsberg suggested on the BBC, he does not believe that he could pass a no-confidence vote. As if the DUP merely abstain, the government will win. Winning a vote of confidence could bolster the PMs position. Secondly, he knows that there are a minority of the conservative parliamentary party who voted against May in a secret ballot. He wants to call them hypocrites if they don't vote against May in an open division in the Commons.

But such a motion does not have a precedent. In principle the Commons can vote on any motion it wants, but I would not bet on this idea ever reaching the floor of the house.

  • 1
    Kind of begs the question why the UK Parliament has non-binding votes at all? Seems to be more for entertainment than real politics. Commented Dec 18, 2018 at 8:21
  • 7
    Parliament is a talking place. Often the actual vote is a formality (as it would likely be in this situation) It is the debate and discussion that is the important part, not the division. Sometimes it is useful to discuss something without the burden of creating new law.
    – James K
    Commented Dec 18, 2018 at 8:48
  • Okay, so the potential non-binding vote on the no confidence statement in the PM by the opposition leader is rather meaningless and has merely ceremonial character. Corbyn really just wanted to express his opinion that the PM may be a bad person. He did make that clear enough already on many occasions. Commented Dec 18, 2018 at 9:07
  • 1
    To expand on @JamesK's comment, "talking place" is the literal meaning of "parliament", from the Old French "parler" meaning "to talk" and hence "parlement" meaning "talking". Commented Dec 18, 2018 at 10:03
  • 2
    So TL;DR it's the non-confident no-confidence vote?
    – JMac
    Commented Dec 18, 2018 at 15:27

The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom is appointed by the Queen, as "the person most likely to command the confidence of the House of Commons". (Notably, it is not an Elected position, but being elected to other positions - such as Leader of your Party - are likely to make you appear more eligible to Her Majesty.)

If the House of Commons voted "No Confidence" in the PM, then the Queen would most likely appoint a new Prime Minister, unless she had reason to suspect that all other options would command even less Confidence from the House of Commons.

While most Prime Ministers who received a vote of No Confidence of over 50% of the House would probably choose to resign, it would not be mandatory - but, doing so would be better than being dismissed by the Queen.

(Likewise, the Queen is perfectly free to say to a PM resigning in the result of, say, a 52% No Confidence vote "Well, you may only command 48% Confidence - but the next best candidate only commands 40%. I would like you to stay in the post.")

To clarify in response to comments: A Vote of No Confidence in the Prime Minister has no real impact. There is no precedent and no legislation attached to the situation, only a handful of conventions with links best described in various shades of "tenuous" - so, even if such a vote was passed, Parliament could theoretically choose to just shrug and ignore the result. Not necessarily a good or wise choice, but one that is available without breaking, bending or modifying any existing strictures.

As such, Mr Corbyn's proposed motion is pretty much just smoke and mirrors: it may sound impressive, but is unlikely to put him at risk of any blame if everything goes wrong - and I very much doubt he really expected it to be allocated any time for debate in the House of Commons in the first place. But (for many of the same reasons), as a Political tactic to get him seen as "doing something", and to achieve some resonance with dissatisfied voters, it's a fairly shrewd move.

  • 2
    While this question is, by its nature, speculative, I think this answer is highly unlikely. The motion in question is, at best, a censure motion, which means that it's not binding. Embarrassing for sure, if the PM were to lose, but I believe (as the other answer suggests) that it would make no difference. (I'm not downvoting this, as you never know what might happen these days...) Commented Dec 18, 2018 at 23:34
  • 1
    What this misses is that the Queen follows the advice of her Ministers in all such matters. It isn't a personal choice of the queen, she has no personal say in who becomes PM.
    – James K
    Commented Dec 18, 2018 at 23:55
  • @JamesK I didn't include that, because (excepting situations such as Anthony Eden resigning in 1957) the "advice" effectively takes the form of Parties wrangling to show that they command the greatest proportion of the House's Confidence, and then putting that Confidence behind their Leader. Obviously, in the highly unlikely case of a 325:325 split things could get... interesting, but then she'd probably look at "who has the fewest number of 'rebels' in their party?". Commented Dec 19, 2018 at 2:15
  • No, she would follow the advice of the Prime Minister. She does not have a personal vote in the choice of PM.
    – James K
    Commented Dec 19, 2018 at 7:17
  • @JamesK The point of that hypothetical is that there would not be an incumbent Prime Minister, and the opinions of the Leaders of both Parties involved would hold equal weight. In UK Politics there are 3 ways things work: How it Technically Works ("The Queen signs laws, with Parliament making recommendations"), how it Actually Works ("Parliament proposes a law, and the Queen rubber-stamps it"), or how it Effectively Works ("Parliament make laws"). You're looking at one end of the spectrum, I'm looking at the other - but the end result would (99.9% of the time) be exactly the same. Commented Dec 19, 2018 at 8:38

From everything I've read, and the two existing answers, there appears to be no actual repercussions to the PM or the Government in losing this vote, if indeed it ever happens.

What it does allow is for the Labour party to take control of the narrative. Losing a vote of no confidence in the Government means that the chances of a General Election are significantly reduced and the Labour Party is currently strongly committed to getting that General Election. Trying and failing will be a disaster, and in the aftermath of such a vote all news cycles will focus solely on the failure to remove the government.

Losing a non-binding vote of confidence in the Prime Minister does not have the same effect. It allows the opposition parties to turn the spotlight on the 117 Conservative MPs who just last week demonstrated their lack of confidence in Theresa May. They believed she was not capable of running their party, but if they back her against Labour's motion they are saying the believe she is capable of running the country.

The Labour Party leadership may believe they can capitalise on this discrepancy to make the case that Conservative MPs are more interested what's good for them and/or their party than what is good for the UK.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .