Is a general election on the horizon? 

Gorsaf Bleidleisio: A general election seems inevitable by the end of the year. Credit: Sam Tilley

by Hallum Cowell

Are we about to face the UK’s third general election in just over four years?

With the government running at a minority, the opposition parties long having called for such an election, yet recently voting multiple times against this opportunity, will we indeed soon have to face the ballot boxes?

The Government wanted a general election on October 15, leaving enough time to debate a withdrawal agreement before the Brexit deadline of October 31. Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the SNP, among others, have banded together to reject the chance of election, stating that a no-deal Brexit must first be ruled out.

With opposition leaders having little trust in Johnson, they have voiced concern over holding an election anytime before the upcoming Brexit deadline. 

John McDonnell, shadow Chancellor said “The problem that we’ve got is that we cannot at the moment have any confidence in Boris Johnson abiding by any commitment or deal that we could construct, So we are now consulting on whether it’s better to go long, therefore, rather than to go short.” The other opposition parties have so far agreed with Labour’s stance and continue to cooperate.

Jeremy Corbyn likened Johnson’s call for an election to “an offer of an apple to Snow White from the Wicked Queen… offering the poison of a no-deal.”   

To protect from such an exit, opposition parties proposed the Benn bill, which would see Johnson having to request an extension to Article 50 until January 2020 unless he secures a deal by October 19.  

The House of Lords did ratify the bill, however, Boris Johnson has raised suspicion in his attitude towards the new bill and his intention to follow its demands, stating that he still intends to leave the EU on October 31.

The Prime Minister has also argued that the bill has “scuppered” negotiations and the only way forward now is an election.

Under the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, an election could be triggered if Johnson puts forward a motion to hold an election, which then needs voted on and approved by at least ⅔ of MPs.  The date of the election is clarified after the vote, and it must be at least 25 days after the vote in the Commons takes place. 

Additionally, under the Act, an election can be called after 14 days if a motion of no confidence is passed against a government and it fails to regain the confidence of the House. This was attempted, unsuccessfully, by Conservative rebels under Theresa May in 2018. 

The act, passed in 2011 under the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition, aims to stop “opportunist prime ministers ever again calling snap elections to capitalise on hefty poll leads writes James Morrison of the Oxford University Press; he adds however that “it has proved itself wholly incapable of doing any such thing.

With Parliament prorogued until October 14, Boris will have to secure a deal with the EU during an EU Council summit taking place on October 17-18.  

If unsuccessful he must ask the EU for an extension. After this, it is possible that the opposition parties will support an election if there is assurance it will be held with sufficient time before the January 2020 deadline, such as during November or December.  

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