8

Now that 148 Conservative MPs have voted against the PM, adding to the 199 Labour MPs gives a majority in the Parliament (347/650, 53%). Is it possible for the opposition to launch a no confidence vote in the PM? Why is this not being proposed at all?

7
  • 2
    We can't guess how people will vote in the hypothetical situation that they get to vote.
    – Joe W
    Jun 6, 2022 at 20:43
  • 2
    @JoeW while that is true, we can look at the last time this exact thing happened in 2018, when 117 Tory MPs said Theresa May was not fit to lead the Conservertive party, but was the right person to lead the country.
    – Jontia
    Jun 6, 2022 at 21:41
  • "Is it possible for the opposition to launch a no confidence vote in the PM?" Yes it's possible and it was already possible the whole time. If it will succeed though, nobody knows. The "is there enough support..." part of the question is too speculative. Jun 6, 2022 at 22:00
  • 1
    @Trilarion - "nobody knows" The Conservatives have a majority of 79. Short of a meteor strike, we absolutely do know that a motion of confidence in the government would result in a resounding loss for the opposition.
    – Valorum
    Jun 7, 2022 at 11:51
  • 1
    It is now being proposed. twitter.com/EdwardJDavey/status/…
    – Jontia
    Jun 7, 2022 at 13:10

3 Answers 3

30

148 Conservative MPs ...

... have voted in favor of a change of leadership of the conservative party. Had they prevailed, there would be a new Conservative prime minister.

That is a very different thing from voting to end the current Conservative mandate in favor of a new election and the possibility of a new Labour prime minister. It is not at all likely that all of the 148 would vote in favor of a motion of no confidence in the present Conservative government. In fact, it seems rather more likely that very few of them would.

Why is this not being proposed at all?

Because opposition politicians recognize that the internal strife in the Conservative party is not so severe as to turn its members against the PM in an external contest.

6
  • 1
    Does a non-confidence vote in the House of Commons automatically trigger a new election? In many countries it just forces the current (head of) government to resign, but a new government may be formed (with the same or a different PM) and a new vote taken, and only if no-one manages to form a government which gets the confidence of Parliament is a new general election called. This is especially true in countries where most governments need to rely on coalitions and those coalitions shift and change over time.
    – jcaron
    Jun 7, 2022 at 13:11
  • @jcaron I don't remember the details of the fixed-term parliaments act, and I haven't been bothered to look them up since they're not likely to be relevant anytime soon.
    – phoog
    Jun 7, 2022 at 13:18
  • 1
    @jcaron While the only requirement is for the Government to resign, and not for Parliament to be dissolved, that typically results in another VoNC shortly afterwards, even if the new Government was the old Opposition. (e.g. there were 3 successful Votes of No Confidence in the Government within the 12 months starting 8th June 1885, flipping the Government from Tory to Liberal, back to Tory, and then a General Election) Under FTPA 2011, there need to be a passed Motion of Confidence in a new Government within 14 days of the No Confidence vote, or a new General Election would be called. Jun 7, 2022 at 13:29
  • 5
    @phoog: The fixed-term parliament acts is presumably no longer relevant since it was recently repealed :)
    – psmears
    Jun 7, 2022 at 14:42
  • @Chronocidal: as psmears has commented, the FTPA has been repealed, so it's now entirely up to the PM when and if an election is called. Jun 8, 2022 at 10:16
20

While the title question is "Is there enough support for a no-confidence vote?" I want to answer one of the questions in the text first:

Is it possible for the opposition to launch a no confidence vote in the PM?

A similar situation happened when Teresa May was prime minister, with very similar numbers to the vote against Boris Johnson today.

In December 2018, May survived a no-confidence vote within the Conservative Party by a margin of 200 to 117. One month later, Labour brought forward a no-confidence vote in the House. Every single Conservative MP voted against it, and the motion failed.

As to why this happened: there is a difference between an MP deciding that they'd like someone else to lead their party (but still be in the majority in Parliament) and an MP deciding that their best bet is a snap election. The latter is much more of a roll of the dice, since depending on circumstances it could lead to their party losing power entirely. So while we cannot know definitively whether enough MPs in Parliament would support a vote of no confidence brought by the opposition, the number of Conservative MPs who would support such a motion in Parliament is probably far fewer than the number of votes against Johnson in the party vote, since the consequences of such a vote would be much riskier for them.

It's not a perfect parallel between May and Johnson, of course; in particular, May had just lost a major vote on the Brexit deal immediately before the House non-confidence vote took place. Still, in both cases we have a party where around 1/3 of the sitting MPs wanted to replace their politically damaged leader with someone else. In the case of May, weak support from her party and a failed vote on major legislation was not enough to get any Tories to cross the floor on a non-confidence vote in the House; and it seems plausible (at least to me) that the same would happen if a non-confidence motion against Johnson was tabled.

9
  • 6
    @JoeW: That's... what I said in my last sentence? Sorry, I'm not sure if you're critiquing my answer or agreeing with it. Jun 6, 2022 at 21:14
  • 4
    @JoeW: The question literally asks "Is it possible for the opposition to launch a no confidence vote in the PM?" as well as asking why this might or might not happen. Jun 6, 2022 at 21:27
  • 2
    @JoeW: I have attempted to directly address the title question in a new paragraph at the end (as best as one can without a crystal ball, at least.) Jun 6, 2022 at 21:50
  • 3
    +1 There's another key difference between the two votes: the party confidence vote is private (i.e. anonymous); a Commons confidence vote is public. Much harder to vote against your leader if everyone can see how you voted. Jun 7, 2022 at 9:23
  • 2
    "...a roll of the dice...": Supposedly, constituents have told MPs that they won't back the conservatives while Boris remains in charge. A general election without a change of leadership risks costing lots of conservative MPs their jobs. If a change of leadership isn't possible, the next best outcome for MPs is to prevent a snap GE and hope that the public mood changes.
    – avid
    Jun 7, 2022 at 16:28
4

Not only has the (more precisely: one of the parties in the) opposition considered a motion of no confidence, the Liberal Democrats have tabled one. However, as the Mirror writes, it is unlikely to go anywhere – even if it were a motion of no confidence in the Government rather than in the Prime Minister (and even if it were tabled by Labour rather than the LibDems).

First, it is important to recognise a constitutional quirk in the United Kingdom. Unlike in countries such as France (where the President is elected by the people) or Germany (where the Chancellor is elected by Parliament), for historical reasons the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom is actually an appointed position. This difference in concept leads to different outcomes. In Germany, a vote of no confidence in the government will automatically replace the Chancellor if successful (the resulting appointment by the President is a formality). In the United Kingdom, it is up to the Queen to choose a Prime Minister most likely to command a majority in the House of Commons – in practice, the leader of the largest party – so if a motion of no confidence is successful in Parliament: nothing happens at first.

This quirk has a couple of consequences. One of them is that as long as the Conservative Party has a majority in the Commons (which it has, 359 out of 640 seats currently occupied excluding the Speaker), it is all up to the Conservative Party who should be Prime Minister. Thus, the way to replace a Prime Minister without triggering a general election would be precisely the party-internal process that we witnessed yesterday.

Second, while it is not enshrined in law convention dictates that if the Government were to lose a motion of (no) confidence a general election should be called. (Again, this occurs by Royal Prerogative, i.e. the Government can ask the Queen to dissolve Parliament whenever it wants.) However, as the other answers have already stated, a general election might cause government MP's to lose their (competitive) seats against opposition challengers which dramatically changes the calculations. Most Conservative MP's who voted against Johnson yesterday are probably on board with a new leader of the Party and (Conservative) Prime Minister but not with a general election and the potential of losing power altogether.

Third, this is why Labour is likely uninterested in proposing such a motion currently. Ignoring for a second that a motion of no confidence hasn't been successful since 1979, the Labour Party knows very well how different the calculations are between a Tory-internal leadership dispute and voting for a snap election. However, a lot of business in the House of Commons is intended less as functioning parliamentary work rather than a show for the press and news stories.

Labour predicts that such a motion will fail. They also know from past experience that this will be interpreted by the Conservative Party and the Johnson Government as a sign of victory. Conversely, the way the events are currently unfolding is generally beneficial to Labour: the Conservative Party is seen as in disunity, Johnson will need to do something, Partygate is still being talked about all of which likely hurts the Tories in the polls. Tabling the motion would turn the tables and put Labour into (negative) spotlight even if just for a short while.

Unless there is a significant change in the general situation affecting at least the third point (but probably the second, too), we won't be seeing a no confidence motion.


Side note: between 2011 and 2022 the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act (2011) dictated that Parliament was to be dissolved by a motion of no confidence; however, this act has been repealed and the previous situation reinstated.

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