The timeline of Brexit in recent weeks has involved an attempt to call an early general election by the government, which failed to meet the required two thirds majority of the entire house as set out in the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, and has resulted in rumours that the government may call a vote of no confidence in itself (which has a lower threshold than the first attempt as it is set at a simple majority).

There have also been rumours that the government may attempt to call an election by way of passing a bill, which bypasses the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, but can result in the bill being amended by the opposition.

Given that the opposition has taken the stance that it will oppose any calls for an early election, and given that the current government has lost its voting majority in the last week, it is unlikely that the government will succeed in causing an early election to be held.

However, what laws or rules are in place and enforceable to ensure that the government cannot simply sit back, sulk and refuse to carry out any business (other than perhaps opposing bills in Parliament that are designed to force the government to act)?

  • 1
    Parliament will be prorogued in less than a week, and I can't imagine much of consequence will happen in that week besides maybe calling an election somehow. If the government did as you suggest, I imagine Corbyn would be thrilled at the campaign material that Boris would be giving him for free.
    – Kevin
    Commented Sep 9, 2019 at 4:58
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    When you refer to carrying out business, are you referring to business in Parliament, or are you referring to something else specifically?
    – Joe C
    Commented Sep 9, 2019 at 6:00
  • @JoeC I’m referring to everything involved in being the government, other than opposing acts intended to force them into action. Bringing pointless bills etc is fine.
    – user16741
    Commented Sep 9, 2019 at 6:20
  • It's not uncommon for countries to function without a government. In 2010/11, Belgium was without a government for 589 days - en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… Commented Sep 9, 2019 at 12:57
  • I feel as if the current deadlock is because ministers are second guessing what the people meant by the referendum, so can be unblocked by a second referendum now that the options are clear, however it doesn't look as if that is going to happen. There is a petition for such a referendum but it has only 60 votes, so basically it has no support: petition.parliament.uk/petitions/253709 .
    – Max Murphy
    Commented Sep 9, 2019 at 17:36

2 Answers 2


Have a vote of no confidence. If the government manages to win that, well then, their sulking is with parliments blessing. If they lose, parliment can appoint a new government (simplified version of the process, but essentially what occurs), or if it cannot agree to do so, will dissolve itself and call fresh elections


There are two main options.

  1. Motion of no confidence in the government, allowing an alternative government (that commands a majority) to take over. If no alternative is viable then a General Election is automatically triggered.

  2. Legal action to force the government to comply. Refusing to comply with the law could expose government ministers, particularly the Prime Minister as they are the ultimate authority, to charges of contempt of court and ministerial misconduct. Both carry jail time, the latter a maximum of life in prison.

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