Boris Johnson is set to reclaim powers to trigger an early election – amid signs that he could turn the screw on crisis-hit Labour by calling a vote in 2023.
The PM has not had full control over the timing of an election for a decade, since the Cameron-Clegg Coalition passed the Fixed-term Parliaments Act.
Instead national contests are meant to take place every five years unless there are extraordinary circumstances.
The FTPA restrictions were introduced under David Cameron because the Lib Dems were nervous that he would break their alliance early if polls showed the Tories could win a majority alone.
But they were condemned as badly-drafted by experts, and incurred the fury of Mr Johnson and the Tories in 2019 when Parliament was gridlocked on the Brexit issue – but MPs also spent months refusing to agree to hold an early election.
Going back to the previous arrangements where premiers are able to call elections at the time of their choosing could massively increase pressure on Sir Keir Starmer after disastrous elections.
He would potentially have less than two years to turn Labour around, with evidence that it is still shipping votes in crucial Red Wall areas.
Sir Keir has already voiced alarm at the prospect, saying on the anniversary of become leader last month: ‘I’ve instructed the party to be election ready for 2023.’
But a No10 source said: ‘There are no discussions about an early election. We are entirely focused on recovering from the pandemic and building back better.’
Boris Johnson (right) is set to reclaim powers to trigger an early election – amid speculation that he could turn the screw on crisis-hit Keir Starmer (left) by calling a vote in 2023
Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg has confirmed that the Queen’s Speech tomorrow will include repealling the legislation
How does the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act work, and what would the new rules be?
For hundreds of years Prime Ministers had discretion on when to call elections, as long as they happened at least once every five years.
But the Cameron-Clegg’s Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 introduced a standard five-year gap, with ballots cast on the first Thursday in May.
It was designed to allay Lib Dem fears that the Tories would ditch them if they thought they could secure a majority alone.
There are two mechanisms for holding early elections – if two-thirds of MPs vote for one, or if a no confidence vote is passed in the government and no other administration is formed within 10 days.
Constitutional experts were highly critical of the arrangements – and the legal drafting – at the time.
And the problems were highlighted in 2019 when Parliament become completely deadlocked over Brexit.
Boris Johnson demanded an election saying it was the only way to break the impasse, but was unable to secure enough MP votes.
Eventually a shift the SNP allowed him to go to the country, and he scored a huge 80-strong majority in December 2019.
The next general election is currently schedule for May 2, 2024.
The government now wants to restore the Royal prerogative powers that gave the PM control in the past.
It means that the premier will be able to ask the Queen to dissolve parliament at the time of their choosing.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour, Mr Rees-Mogg said: ‘I am glad to say the FTPA will be repealed. That’s already been draft legislation and that is something we will be looking at in the next session.
‘It will restore the status quo ante (the prevously existing state of affairs). It will ensure we have the constitution acting properly and don’t have the absurd shenanigans we had in 2019.’
Pressed whether it meant the PM could trigger an early election, Mr Rees-Mogg said: ‘Subject to the normal conventions. The conventions will be restored alongside the Royal prerogative.’
The next election had been due to happen in May 2024. But rumours have been circulating that Mr Johnson could move earlier, as Labour struggles to recover.
The party tumbled to its worst defeat since 1935 under Jeremy Corbyn in December 2019.
And the situation has not improved under Sir Keir Starmer, with Labour losing hundreds of council seats in Super Thursday elections as the Red Wall crumbles further.
Experts have estimated that the Tories could add more than 30 seats to their tally if the outcome was replicated at a general election.
That would potentially push Mr Johnson’s 80-majority towards the scale of Tony Blair’s 1997 landslide.
Anything of that order could deal a fatal blow to the Labour Party, which is already struggling to work out what it is for and who it represents.
The leader has suffered another major blow to his authority amid claims he wanted to shift his deputy into the health brief after stripping her of responsibility for campaigns – but she refused.
In the end he was forced to give Ms Rayner a new job at the top of the party shadowing Michael Gove, with her allies boasting she is ‘even more powerful’.
Other moves in the overhaul were also far more limited than heralded. In the biggest change, shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds was demoted and replaced by Rachel Reeves.
Opposition chief whip Nick Brown and Commons leader Valerie Vaz were also removed from the shadow cabinet.
But Sir Keir had to scale back his ambitions dramatically as he faced a furious backlash over the botched sacking of Mrs Rayner, with the hard-Left accusing him of ‘cowardice’ and openly threatening a coup.
Labour lost hundreds of council seats in Super Thursday elections as the Red Wall crumbled further
Shabana Mahmood, fresh from promotion in a reshuffle, suggested the outcome of the ‘important’ battle in Batley and Spen could be make-or-break.
The Red Wall constituency needs a new MP after Tracy Brabin won the race to become West Yorkshire mayor – meaning she will quit the Commons.
Ms Brabin held the constituency with a majority of just 3,525 over the Tories in 2019.
But local election results suggest that Labour will struggle to hang on when it calls the ballot to replace her. Ward level results put the Tories marginally ahead – although voting habits often vary between council and Westminster contests.
The Conservatives overturned a Labour majority of 3,595 in last week’s Hartlepool by-election, winning by 6,940 votes.