The mess that UK politics is in cannot be overstated, nor the harm that this is doing to many of its citizens and the economy. Can a general election be a way out of the Brexit conundrum? It could lead to a change of government and at least would almost certainly mean a new prime minister. In this blog, John Ryan (LSE) explains what might happen, and says that an extension of Article 50 would be necessary to hold a general election.
In the discussion of how to break the Brexit impasse, the idea of holding a snap general election is suggested by some. This could lead to a change of government and at least would almost certainly mean a new prime minister. Although general election campaigns are inevitably far more wide-ranging than referendums, making them ill-suited to resolving individual policy questions, the fact that it would lead to a decisive change in political leadership could make it an appealing option, particularly for those opposed to No Deal or another referendum.
Any campaign would inevitably be dominated by Brexit, but it is hard to see either of the main parties producing a coherent manifesto on the Brexit question. The Conservative campaign, if led by Theresa May, might well consist of her already rejected deal. The Labour one would very likely maintain the dogged assertions made by Jeremy Corbyn: that Labour would somehow extract from negotiations the benefits of being in the Single Market without the constraints.
The result might indeed be another hung parliament and no end to the Westminster stalemate. Even a government elected with an apparent majority could still struggle to find a majority in Parliament for its version of Brexit.
How could a general election come about? The first option is that a two-thirds majority of the Commons (not just those that show up to vote), or 464 MPs, would need to vote for an election. The second option is that a simple majority (50% +1, so a minimum of 326) of MPs must pass a specifically worded no-confidence motion in the government. This would then be followed by a two-week period when an alternative government could be formed. If such a government could not be formed, there would be a general election thereafter. A final (probably impracticable) option would be to overturn the Fixed Term Parliaments Act itself. This is something that the Conservative manifesto of 2017 pledged to do and would involve the government winning a vote in Parliament.
Holding a general election would take approximately six weeks. The Electoral Registration and Administration Act 2013 requires 25 working days for an election campaign. This is likely to mean that a general election would have to be forced before mid-February to take place at some point before the end of the Article 50 period.
In practice, an extension of Article 50 would be necessary to hold a general election. Although a general election could be called and held relatively quickly, in all likelihood we would end up with a new prime minister who would almost certainly want to renegotiate at least some aspects of the Brexit deal. Theresa May has made a commitment not to lead the Conservatives into the scheduled 2022 general election, but in practice, this probably also applies to any earlier election.
A few weeks ago there were rumours that Tory polling has concluded a snap general election would put Jeremy Corbyn in Downing Street. Senior Conservative officials have privately warned Theresa May that she could face disaster if she calls a new nationwide poll to try to unblock her irresolvable Brexit deal proposal. Confidential party projections put Jeremy Corbyn in No.10, at the helm of a rainbow coalition government including the SNP and the Lib Dems. The internal report says the Tories are completely unprepared for an election, with databases out of date and the grassroots badly demoralized.
A more recent YouGov poll for The Times suggested, however, that Theresa May could win a working majority if a general election was held today. According to YouGov, which had correctly predicted a hung parliament in 2017, Conservatives would gain 4 seats to take 321 seats, while the Labour party would fall to 250 seats, down 12 from 2017. The Liberal Democrats and the Scottish National Party would both gain 4 seats each. These polls are snapshots and as we saw in the last General Election campaign significant leads can be overhauled.
Labour’s chances of forcing a general election to renegotiate Brexit are now slim according to John McDonnell who indicated that Labour is considering a compromise Brexit deal with the government — or a second referendum. Keir Starmer has poured cold water on pushing for a general election was no longer a “credible option.” Starmer’s intervention sparked a sharp response from Jeremy Corbyn’s office, which insisted an early election remained the party’s “preferred option.”
It is difficult to predict what Theresa May would put in her 2019 election manifesto as the Tories’ official position on Brexit and in fact it is similarly difficult to predict Jeremy Corbyn’s official position. The mess that UK politics is in can’t be overstated, and the harm that this is doing to many of its citizens and the economy. With the possibility of leaving with no deal, UK and foreign firms are having to make decisions to move jobs abroad to avoid the impact of that outcome. That, in turn, reduces the living standards of everyone in the UK. Rather than trying to convince them to stay, the government is actually urging firms and citizens to plan for No Deal.
Prime Ministers Theresa May is lacking authority and credibility, unable to listen or lead. Indeed, having led the first government to be found in contempt of parliament, May now finds herself in contempt of the people: is her intransigence paralysing the country, the economy, the political system the country and its economy perhaps for years to come. Now the endgame threatens the preservation not simply of the British government, but of modern Britain. The Brexit process revealed the weakness of Westminster’s insular politics. The UK Parliament is seemingly incapable of running a modern economy and society. Westminster’s politics are becoming more not less dysfunctional. Whether a general election could provide a way out of this mess, hangs in the balance.
This article gives the views of the author, and not the position of LSE Brexit, nor of the London School of Economics. Image © Copyright ceridwen and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.
Professor John Ryan is a Visiting Fellow at LSE IDEAS. He was a fellow at the St Edmund’s College, University of Cambridge and the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, Berlin, Germany. John is working as a senior partner in consultancy as a Brexit adviser for EU, Gulf and Asian clients.
Whist I agree that politics is in a huge mess and there is no doubt that current situation will call for serious overhaul of parliament.
The people of this country are dismayed at all politicians who do not respect a vote!
But instead are more interested in point scoring against each other. And personal gain.
The people will not forget.
We all know that another general election is very unlikely, heaven forbid that we end up with Corbyn and his left wing policies.
If you think today that businesses are deserting the country, just wait until his policies are enacted and businesses such as retail will close down massively.
Whilst this article is exploratory, the fact remains that it is only the NI border issue that is stopping us leaving.
Is it not fair to say that all clear thinking people know that the island of Ireland will not put a border in place?
They have recently admitted they have no plans to do so.
The Uk has also said that they will not put a border in place.
It therefore shows that the EU are being obstructive by refusing to acknowledge those facts.
It is in fact the EU who are preventing us from leaving.
If we leave without a deal then the fault will be theirs and not our prime minister or parliament.
It is proof that there is a secret determination by the EU dictators to keep the U.K. inside Europe.
It’s not their call.
But that in itself shows that we should leave!!!
I agree with what you say and to add another aspect to it. If Labour get into power they will borrow massive mounts of money to achieve all there plans. We are in debt now, a massive £2tn which is costing over £1bn each week. It is odd to me, a retired truck driver, that no one is talking about the burden and any way of clearing the debt.
A succinct appraisal, but one that has the major flaw that Theresa May will not call an election unless she is forced to, and that is unlikely. Also she has ‘pledged’ – is that a meaningful word in relation to PM May – not to stand as leader of the party at the next election.
As you point out, a general election would incite the two vitriolic sides of the Brexit debate yet again. And what would be the manifesto for the Conservatives? – Most MPs voted remain but their constituents and Brexit extreme members still threaten ‘leave’ at any costs, even to the stability of their own party.
And what would be Labour’s manifesto? A negotiated custom’s union, keeping the UK in a tariff free union, but with no ability to make the rules that would apply? And led by Corbyn who voted to leave? Today we see Labour MPs leaving the party.
An election now would be fascinating, and might give Lib Dems, Greens, Independents? some hope, but that, as with the idea of an imminent General Election, is wishful thinking.
So far, so much conjecture. Why did May call the unnecessary election in 2017? Whatever the reason, she hoped to gain some advantage for her plans, whatever her plans were. At the time, she campaigned as if she wanted to lose, but maybe it was just her incompetence. After the then election, May persevered, and, it must not be forgotten, the HoC has supported her all along. If the ERG were serious about the challenge against May, they failed to gain enough support from the HoC. All along, the HoC can be said to have been in charge.
The HoC, for whatever reason, has seen fit to allow May to muddle on. The HoC is sovereign, on behalf of the electorate according to Common Law, on behalf of the MPs according to the MPs and supporters of the supremacy of Parliament. Unless the people can persuade the HoC to move to force May to call an election, it is up to the HoC to decide. Would May call an election at this stage? Perhaps if she wishes for an excuse to postpone Brexit. Who knows what May and the HoC are about, other than sabotage Brexit and engineer Brino.
Is British politics in a mess? Only by design. May, with the full support from the HoC, has made a mess of it. The only plausible reason one can advance on this score is that both May and the HoC have deliberately contrived to turn British politics into a mess in order to stop Brexit and engineer Brino.
Two major events have overtaken this blog. The seven Labour MPs resigning from the Party and the closing of the Honda factory in Swindon.
There is now no credible future for the current political landscape. A general election will not provide a solution to the political mess, nor the brexit conundrum. The UK is now an unreliable state, no possible UK government emerging from a General Election at this point could change that.
I can’t see any solution to our self inflicted problems in the short term. A general election would likely not move anything forward as both major parties are fundamentally split. At least another referendum would give the temperature of the electorate, but unless it have a substantial majority for a course of action, might make things worse.
One thing for sure things are not going to get better, only worse, whatever happens.
@David. Parliament has allowed May to make a mess of it. If only May had followed on from Cameron’s promise to deliver on the result of the referendum, or if only Parliament had stepped in to replace May when it became obvious she was steering for Brino, but no, there has been collusion all along with the EU, the May government and Parliament to put up this lengthy piece of political theatre. The mainstream media has been fully in with this performance. What has been written and published is on record. It can be analysed as long as these records are available. If only May had set out to prepare the UK for independence. It may be an unusual situation to get out from a straitjacket such as the EU, but the UK is not the first country to wrestle itself free from such a bind. That the EU was going to make it hard was obvious from way back. Its leadership has been pathetic. The EU has not shown statesmanship or anything like responsible behaviour in this matter. For May to play the game of fooling the UK electorate is likewise the politics of the kindergarten- simply unforgivable.
@jacob jonker. Where have you been? Theresa May has been steering for a hard brexit since day one. Problem is that a hard brexit destroys the UK economy and erects a hard border in Ireland. She is still pushing ahead for it despite these intractable problems. You say she should have “set out to prepare the UK for independence”, what exactly does that entail? You make no mention of that.
In fact, the UK i independent now. And as far as Theresa May fooling the electorate, that is something she would dearly love to do, but has singularly failed at.
The only point I agree with you is the phrase “the politics of the kindergarten” but I probably disagree with you about how her politics fits that description. If the modern world were as simple as you seem to believe, it would all be easy. Clearly, it’s not.
Well, on some points we can agree to disagree. Your question about preparing for independence should be answered by the people who get paid to do the job and who may look forward to a fat pension. May has been wasting precious time for two years. She has not been preparing or planning for Brexit. The one intractable problem with Brexit I have seen sofar is May and the Remainers in government and the HoC. The Irish border issue is a problem for the EU.
Just one question:
wasn’t Survation the only research group which correctly predicted a hung parliament in 2017?
I remember how stunned news readers were when they unveiled the “Survation’ forecast after the polling stations closed.
Many other researchers were way off.
Theresa May called an election without looking at the large group of ‘undecided’ and ‘don’t knows’ in the polls.
The problem for me about another election is who to vote for ? I am so disillusioned with all the parties as they are today. All the MP’s seem to be more concerned with there own position and the party than our nation. The MP’s behaviour in the Commons is more like a drunken mob in a bar, they shout each other down and stop most speeches. At school I used to enjoy the debates we had in class, we were encouraged to speak and were never jeered at or shouted down. This Brexit has been so badly mis-managed, we a losing respect around the world. The people were asked to vote and we did in large numbers without any clear margin. This has caused many people to be dissatisfied, now after 2 years most people are fed-up with the way it is going. I voted to leave but those in power did not want this and have done everything to block the process and spread fear.
I think that the Labour Party should put remaining in Europe in their manifesto. If a general election is called. Which is now a big possibility. This whole debacle was caused by Cameron and the the Tory party by the pretence of giving the the people the democratic right to choose only because their own party has been so divided on the issue for over 20 years. As a party they should have decided on whether they were a remain or leave party and if a leave party and gone to the electorate in 2015 with that manifesto commitment. Instead they have moved the division from their party to divide nation.