Will there or won't there be a general election?

  • Video report by ITV News Political Correspondent Carl Dinnen

The Prime Minister had insisted he definitely did not want a general election but now he has changed his mind.

After being knocked back on a snap poll in the Commons on Wednesday, Boris Johnson has insisted he will try again next week.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has constantly talked of wanting one, but he has not taken on the challenge, leading to the PM accusing him of "refusing" to take part in his "constitutional duty".

So will there, or won't there be an election?

Don’t we have to wait until 2022 for the next election?

In 2011, the Fixed-term Parliaments Act (FTPA) was born, setting out that a general election should occur every five years, rather than leave the date to the whim of the prime minister.

Given that former prime minister Theresa May called a snap election in 2017 – exercising a get-out clause in the above Act – that would mean the next election would be in 2022.

What's happening in the next few days? Credit: PA Graphics

Why is Parliament debating about an election in October then?

There are loopholes to the five-year election rule.

Should a no-confidence motion in either the government or the prime minister carry, then, if no other party can command a majority within the following 14 days, a general election can be called.

And less drastic than that, if two-thirds of MPs – 434 of them – agree to hold a general election before the five years is up then Parliament can be dissolved.

That is how Mrs May banked her snap poll two years ago and Prime Minister Boris Johnson wants to do the same now.

However, when Mr Johnson called for an election and MPs voted on it on Wednesday, the Government failed to secure the support of two-thirds of MPs, with the Commons voting 298 to 55.

That falls 136 short of the number needed under the Fixed Term Parliaments Act for a vote to be considered.

Many MPs did not back the call for an election as they did not trust Mr Johnson to stick to the date of October 15 that he had suggested and they believed he might push through a no-deal Brexit whilst Parliament was dissolved.

The Government has said it will seek to hold another vote for an election on Monday, but even if all Tory MPs vote for one, plus the DUP's 10, they would still need 135 more votes to hit the magic number of 434.

Boris Johnson wants an election before the next European Council summit on October 17 Credit: UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor/PA

Why has October 15 been chosen for a general election?

With a European Council summit scheduled for October 17, Number 10 wants to hold an election beforehand in order to give the PM the opportunity to win a fresh majority and show European Union leaders he could get any prospective deal through Parliament.

A Commons majority would also allow the Conservative Party leader, should the UK and Brussels not come to an agreement, to take Britain out of the EU without a deal by deadline day on October 31.

If an election does take place on Tuesday, October 15, it would be the first time an election has not been held on a Thursday, the traditional day for British polls, since 1931.

If an election happens on Tuesday October 15, it would be the first time an election has not been held on a Thursday. Credit: PA

Why has Labour changed its tune on calling a general election?

The looming prospect of a no-deal Brexit has tempered the desire of the opposition leader and his party for a general election – something they have been calling for consistently for the past 12 months.

Instead, Mr Corbyn wants to see the legislation currently making its way through Parliament – a Bill that would force the PM to ask the EU for a three-month delay if he cannot secure a deal by Halloween – before whipping his MPs to back a general election.

The SNP and the Lib Dems have also made clear they want an election, but are following suit with Labour.

The no-deal legislation - currently making its way through the Lords - would give Mr Johnson until October 19 to strike a deal with the EU, or else he would be legally bound to write to European leaders asking for the extension to Article 50.

The PM asked MPs on Wednesday to vote for a general election but Labour abstained, while the Liberal Democrats voted against.

Mr Corbyn, speaking after the result was declared, told Mr Johnson: “Let this Bill pass, and gain Royal Assent, then we will back an election so we do not crash out with a no-deal exit from the European Union.”

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn speaks after defeating the Government on blocking a snap election Credit: House of Commons/PA

What date might we have a general election then?

While a fresh poll in the autumn looks likely given the Commons stalemate, the final date will depend on how long the opposition want to keep the PM in suspense.

Mr Johnson used an interview with ITV News Political Editor Robert Peston will use a speech on Thursday to paint Mr Corbyn as “not only blocking Brexit but now also stopping the people having their say by refusing a general election”.

But without a majority in the Commons – the PM lost his after Dr Phillip Lee defected to the Lib Dems and 21 other Tory MPs were sacked for voting against the Government on Tuesday – Mr Johnson is beholden to the opposition.

If he had a majority he could in theory introduce a new act overturning the FTPA.

But he does not, and his wafer-thin majority was seriously reduced this week when former Tory MP Phillip Lee defected to the Lib Dems, and others were stripped of the party whip after voting against the Government.

So Mr Johnson will have to wait for those opposite him to either vote by a two-thirds majority for an election, or for a vote of no confidence in him or the Government as a whole.

The PM has already set into motion plans to prorogue Parliament next week and hold a Queen’s Speech on October 14.

This means inviting the 93-year-old monarch to set out his Government’s plans for office - only hours before dissolving Parliament for a general election.

The opposition could wait until then before agreeing to an election,in a move some might regard as embarrassing for Mr Johnson.

However, by calling for an October 15 election, it could also mean he risks the deadline of taking Britain out of the EU by October 31 - the one thing he has guaranteed to do.