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17 September 2018updated 08 Jul 2021 11:24am

How can an early election be called and is it likely to happen?

With no obvious route out of a Brexit deadlock rumours are swirling of another general election but how could it be called?

By Sam Forsdick

The shadow Foreign Secretary has predicted that we could get a general election in Autumn or Spring as the government continues to disagree over the terms for Brexit.
 
Speaking to the Financial Times Labour front-bencher Emily Thornberry said: “I can’t see them coming back with a deal that is going to meet our six tests and I can’t see them coming back with a deal that will unite the Tory party, for heaven’s sake. They are not capable of governing. We’re either going to have a general election in the autumn or we’re going to have it in the spring.”
 
If it goes ahead it would be the third general election in the space of four years – the last time that happened was in the 1970’s when a hung parliament and a Labour minority government forced a second general election in 1974. 
 
In 2011 David Cameron introduced the Fixed-term Parliaments Act in order to prevent governments from tactically calling elections and to take the power of calling one away from the prime minister. But this does not mean that another election is beyond the realms of possibility.
 
Why an early election now?
With ardent Brexiteers ridiculing the Prime Minister’s Chequers plan the conundrum of Brexit is threatening to tear the Conservative Party apart. Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg are among a number of Tory MPs doing their best to undermine the Prime Minister and challenging her vision for Britain outside the EU.
 
The Sunday Times reported that Tory backbenchers had held private briefings and were already preparing for another snap election while an unnamed Tory Brexiteer told the paper that they could not see how the government could “square the circle” and appease both remainers and leavers.
With the UK set to officially leave the EU on 29 March a deal must be agreed upon before then. If the government continues to disagree on the terms of the deal then a general election could be called.  
 
With a fixed-term parliament, how could an early election work?
The Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 scheduled elections for the first Thursday in May in every fifth year from 2010. According to this rule, the next election will take place on 7 May 2022.
 
According to the legislation, early elections can only be held: if a motion for an early general election is agreed either by at least two-thirds of the whole House or without division; or if a motion of no confidence is passed and a new government with the support of a majority of MPs cannot be formed within a period of 14 days, Parliament is dissolved and an early General Election is triggered. 
 
Would Labour vote for an early election?
Although the Labour leadership have been coy on the matter the comments from Thornberry give the best indication yet that Labour are ready to support a general election. In July the Guardian reported that Labour were “ramping up” their preparations for government in case a snap election is called.
 
The latest YouGov poll on voting intentions has Labour on 35 per cent and the Tories on 39 per cent. This might not be the most promising sign for the Labour Party however they closed the gap on a much larger difference during the 2017 snap general election.
 
Could an early election stop Brexit?
The majority of MPs are agreed that Brexit is inevitable. Whether it is the current government, or another formed after an early election, the course of Brexit will likely continue unchanged.
 
 There are some MPs who have been vocal about a second referendum or “people’s vote” but they are in a minority. However unlikely it may seem Brexit will not be a done deal until 29 March so until then it remains possible that it could be stopped.
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