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Background: current UK government led by prime minister Boris Johnson wants to call an early election. But Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 requires 2/3 supermajority in Commons for that, which the government cannot secure.

Euronews say that the government wants to propose a bill which calls an election in December 2019, which requires only a simple majority, so bypassing FTPA.

This possibility was already discussed on this SE: this question in 2017 clarified that FTPA does not diminish future parliament sovereignty and may be repealed by a simple majority, and this recent question also confirmed that it can be bypassed in such a way.

Also, these questions explain that FTPA requires only Commons supermajority for an election, while a normal parliament bill would require also Lords approval and Royal assent. However, Lords are restricted in rejecting Commons bills and Royal Assent is de-facto automatic.

This looks like an unusual way to deal with self-imposed restrictions (and why make them if they can be bypassed in the first place), and it’s interesting whether there were any precedents.

  1. Were there laws which required Commons supermajority to do something?
  2. Were they ever bypassed (without repealing them) by a simple majority bill?
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    I guess it's worth mentioning that FTPA worked "as intended" in 2017, when the early election was called "by consensus" of the majority and opposition, i.e. there was a supermajority for an early election motion then. instituteforgovernment.org.uk/blog/… The intent of this law (adopted during the Cameron coalition years) was to limit the ability of the PM to call an election at will (possibly disregarding even coalition members then). – Fizz Oct 29 '19 at 12:29
  • A simple majority vote in the commons is not sufficient to pass a new act of parliament. There are additional procedural requirements.. A simple majority vote in the commons, therefore, is not sufficient to bypass the FTPA. – phoog Oct 29 '19 at 15:42
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There is no precedent for requiring a supermajority in the commons - the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act was the first time this was ever required. There is, therefore, no precedent for circumventing such a requirement in this way, but this is simply because it has never been necessary.

This method of getting around the supermajority requirement may seem odd, but that is only because it is a law which affects the Commons itself. It would not be strange for a government who disagreed with any other area of law to pass new legislation to amend that law.

  • The first paragraph is straightforward enough, but I don't understand the second paragraph. It seems to presuppose that the FTPA is unusually hard to amend, but the only thing which might stop the government from amending or completely repealing the FTPA would be failure to get a simple majority of Parliament to back it. – Peter Taylor Oct 29 '19 at 10:39
  • @PeterTaylor There is an assertion in the question that this is an odd way of proceeding. The point I was intending to make in the second paragraph was that this only seems odd because the original law effects how parliament conducts itself, and that were it any other law, amending or overriding it to better match the goals or beliefs of the current government would not seem strange at all. – CoedRhyfelwr Oct 29 '19 at 10:47
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    @PeterTaylor that's exactly the point, amendment or repeal of the FTPA would require just a simple majority, but because the FTPA moved power from the Government to Parliament, then to shift it back would require parliament to agree to give up those powers. Which, given if they agree on a one time basis they can do without surrendering those powers, then why would they? – Jontia Oct 29 '19 at 10:48
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    Thanks, both comments are very helpful. I think @Jontia's point hits the nail on the head, and should be a separate answer or edited into this one: it's not so much that it "affects the Commons itself" as that it affects the balance of power between the Commons and the government, and so a "notwithstanding" clause bill is easier to pass than an amendment or appeal. I think it's also worth editing to clarify that "It" at the start of the second paragraph doesn't refer to the first paragraph. – Peter Taylor Oct 29 '19 at 11:13
  • "Appeal" should, of course, say "repeal". – Peter Taylor Oct 29 '19 at 11:20

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