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So Is There Going to Be a UK General Election Soon or What?

Why Global Citizens Should Care
The next general election in the UK could determine a generation of change. From fighting climate change to ending gender inequality, whoever has power has a big responsibility to lead the race to achieve the UN’s Global Goals by 2030. Join our movement and take action to end extreme poverty here.

“Not another one?!?”

The ire of #Brenda from Bristol — one-woman meme machine, voice of the nation — drew cries of relatability as she responded to Theresa May calling Britain’s last general election in April 2017.

“I can’t stand this,” she muttered darkly. Brenda is all of us, the people declared. “There’s too much politics going on at the moment!” 

Two years on, there's talk of another general election. But the national mood is sour: 75% of people think politics is not fit for purpose. With Brenda busy repotting plants and fending off journalists , we must ask the question for her — are the new rumours true, and what would need to happen to get there?

So here’s where everyone stands right now.

Let's start with Prime Minister Boris Johnson. He's said for a while now that a general election is the “last thing” he wants. Johnson reiterated that position on Monday, telling the country from the steps of 10 Downing Street that "I don’t want an election, you don’t want an election" — a position he doubled down on after losing a crucial vote to begin to block a No Deal Brexit on Tuesday.

But in that same speech, Johnson tabled a motion in the House of Commons that would vote to trigger an election. We'll go into the how later. For now, let's look at the why.

Johnson has lost his working majority. Throwing the biggest parliamentary shade since that time a politician attempted to run away with a ceremonial mace (love you forever, politics), Conservative MP Phillip Lee literally crossed the floor on Tuesday to offficially join the Liberal Democrats, all while the PM was speaking, and thereby reducing Johnson's majority to zero.

Later that day, Johnson effectively sacked 21 other Conservative MPs because they voted to take back control of the Commons order paper — a move that allows MPs to vote on the bill to block No Deal on Wednesday, put it to the House of Lords on Thursday, and attain royal assent before the end of the week.

It has to happen this week, because of prorogation — parliament may very well be suspended from next week. Busy, busy.

All that means Johnson now rules over a minority government. Calling an election could be an enticing prospect for Johnson to win more seats, regain control of the House of Commons, and fully implement his ideas for Brexit.

So, an election is happening? Well, it's not that simple.

Then there's the man in the red corner.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has been chasing a new election since what feels like the Reformation, telling a rally in Salford on Monday that "I’m ready for it, you’re ready for it" (sound familiar?) The Labour leader has stated he "will be delighted" to fight a general election, while his party has been on election footing for months.

And yet, when Johnson tabled the motion that could lead to an election, Corbyn confirmed that Labour would not actually vote for one — yet.

Labour will only vote for an election (the how is coming, I promise) if the bill to stop a No Deal Brexit passes. That's because if Labour did back an election, it puts Johnson back in control of Brexit — since he can decide the election date (or rather, it's his job to advise the Queen when to have one, who will take that advice), he could hypothetically decide to hold the vote after the Brexit deadline passes on Oct. 31.

Um, so no election? Nope. Here's how an election could be on the way.

1. Johnson calls an early election

Somewhere behind the jet black door of 10 Downing Street lies a locked room. It is protected at all times by a man in a suit of armour, permitted by law to refuse entry to all but the sitting prime minister. Within its dusty walls rests a marble plinth, atop which a large red button is labelled thus: the Fixed Terms Parliament Act — press for an emergency election.

The gist of this is generally true — there’s probably a decorative gauntlet or two around the office, and only Boris Johnson has the power right now to call for an election at any time. All he would then need is at least two-thirds of MPs (exactly 434 out of 650) to vote for it.

Elections happen every five years, with the next general election scheduled for May 5, 2022. But if you get the votes, it can happen whenever.

On Wednesday, Johnson will bring this vote to the floor. But like already mentioned, Labour won't back it until legislation has passed preventing a No Deal Brexit. But once that's all out of the way, an election could be triggered as soon as Friday, although Johnson could reportedly decide to go for round two on Monday instead. This looks like the most likely path.

2. A vote of no confidence

However, there's a chance that Johnson might decide to sack off the election and struggle on with a minority government— or that Labour could delay triggering any election until after Oct. 31, forcing Johnson to break his frequently repeated promise that Britain would be out of the EU by then.

At any rate, it can be taken out of the prime minister's hands with a vote of no confidence. Here's how that works.

The Leader of the Opposition, Jeremy Corbyn, must propose the motion, kickstarting a debate. When the vote comes around, it needs a simple majority to pass — meaning it can come down to just one vote from one MP.

If the government lost a vote of no confidence, it has exactly 14 days to convince MPs to restore that aforementioned confidence. Within that timeframe, a second vote could be held to confirm whether confidence had definitely been lost. 

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Then two things could happen: if Johnson doesn’t win back support in that 14-day period, a general election process is immediately triggered. Parliament then must be dissolved, campaigning can begin — and a country-wide vote is held five weeks later. 

Secondly, an alternative government could be put forward by opposition parties in that same period, replacing the Johnson administration. This seems unlikely though — it would mean Conservative politicians might have to vote for Jeremy Corbyn to become temporary prime minister. 

Either way, at the end of the 14-day grace period, an election is triggered. It’s never happened like this before though, so expect some theatrical bumps in the road.