Summary

E-petition 619781, calling for an early general election, has over 630,000 signatures. The petition closes on 28 January 2023. The petition says:

Call an immediate general election so that the people can decide who should lead us through the unprecedented crises threatening the UK.

The chaos engulfing the UK government is unprecedented. Over 40 ministers resigned leaving departments without leadership during cost of living, energy and climate crises. War rages in Ukraine; the Northern Ireland Protocol has further damaged our relationship with Europe; recession looms; the UK itself may cease to exist as Scotland seeks independence. This is the greatest set of challenges we have seen in our lifetimes. Let the people decide who leads us through this turmoil.

The Government response was published on 20 September 2022. It said:

The United Kingdom is a Parliamentary democracy, not a Presidential one. Following the general election of December 2019, Members of Parliament of the governing party (the Conservative Party) were elected, such that there is a majority in the House of Commons. This remains the case. A change in the leader of the governing party does not trigger a general election – this has been the case under governments of successive political colours.

The Dissolution and Calling of Parliament Act 2022 provides that Parliament is automatically dissolved five years after it first meets (unless it is dissolved sooner), otherwise the timing is a matter of discretion for the incumbent Prime Minister (subject to re-established constitutional conventions).

New Prime Ministers, of both main parties, have been appointed in the middle of a Parliament and without a general election nine times since the Second World War.

The current Parliament must end (be dissolved) five years after it first met unless it is dissolved sooner. It met on 17 December 2019, so must be dissolved, at the latest, on 17 December 2024.

Any decision to dissolve sooner and call an early election is at the discretion of the Prime Minister.

Timings of general elections

Repeal of the Fixed-term Parliament Act

Between 2011 and 2022 the term of a Parliament was fixed at five years by the Fixed-term Parliament Act 2011. Early general elections could still happen if voted for by the House of Commons. Early general elections were voted for in 2017 and 2019.

Before the passing of the 2011 Act general elections had to be held every five years unless an early election was requested by the sitting Prime Minister, or the Government lost a vote of no confidence.

In 2022, the Fixed-term Parliament Act 2011 was repealed. The Dissolution and Calling of Parliament Act 2022 reinstated the discretion of the Prime Minister to call for an early general election and fixed the maximum length of a Parliament at five years. The five years is calculated from the first meeting of the new Parliament.

The background to the 2022 Act is detailed in Library briefing CBP9267, Dissolution and Calling of Parliament Bill 2021-22

When does the next general election have to be held?

The current Parliament must be dissolved five years after it first met. It met on 17 December 2019, so must be dissolved on 17 December 2024.

General elections are conducted on a 25 working-day timetable. Weekends, bank holidays and Christmas Eve are discounted from the timetable. A bank holiday in one part of the country is discounted in across the whole UK for the election timetable.

If Parliament dissolved on 17 December 2024, the election would take place on 28 January 2025.

The timetable would disregard Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day, New Year’s Day and the Scottish bank holiday of Thursday 2 January 2025.

What about early elections?

The Dissolution and Calling of Parliament Act 2022 also reinstated the position and conventions that existed before the Fixed-term Parliament Act.

A sitting Prime Minister could initiate an early general election at the time of their choosing. This would be done by requesting an early dissolution from the monarch. The convention that this would be granted by the monarch was also reinstated.

The only other way an early election might be triggered is by the government of the day losing a vote of no confidence.

It is a core convention of the UK’s constitution that the Government must be able to command the confidence of the House of Commons. If a government loses a confidence vote in the House of Commons, the Prime Minister will be expected either to resign, or to request a dissolution of Parliament from the King.

Library Insight, Votes of no confidence, explains how votes of no confidence are drafted and what happens if the Government loses.

Does a change of Prime Minister mean an early election?

No.

The Prime Minister is, by convention, also the leader of their political party. If the political party changes leader while the party is in Government, the old leader resigns as Prime Minister and new leader is appointed Prime Minister by the monarch.

This has happened on several occasions and has happened under both Labour and Conservative governments, as the Conservative did in 2022 and Labour did most recently in 2007.

There have been 16 Prime Ministers since 1945. Ten of those Prime Ministers first took office between elections, starting with Winston Churchill in 1940. The other six first entered office after a general election. Library briefing SN04256, Prime Ministers, gives more detail.

Recent press articles

Liz Truss Says General Election Is The ‘Last Thing’ The Country Needs – Huff Post | 12 October 2022

‘Would make it worse!’ Furious Vine caller savages Labour general election hopes – Express Online | 12 October 2022

Why we need to be careful about wishing for a pre-Christmas election – Yorkshire Online | 6 October 2022

500,000 people sign petition calling for early general election – Metro | 3 October 2022

When might Liz Truss face her first general election as prime minister?  – Wales Online | 6 September 2022

Labour demands general election and insists Tories need to seek fresh mandate from electorate after choosing new leader Liz Truss – Mail Online | 6 September 2022


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