Boris Johnson published draft legislation on Tuesday that would amend UK law to allow the prime minister to call a general election whenever desired.
The bill also seeks to prevent government decisions taken by royal prerogative from being referred for review to the courts.
It would abolish the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act, which was introduced by the 2010-2015 coalition to bring certainty to the partnership between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats and ensure neither side could easily collapse the government before its five-year term was complete.
The provisions in the act were used during the last parliament by pro-Brexit MPs who repeatedly voted against then-prime minister Theresa May’s EU withdrawal agreement without collapsing her government. Since she could not garner a two-thirds majority in the House of Commons — required under the law to call a general election — she was described by commentators as being in office but not in power.
Before the act, votes on such a significant piece of legislation would have been a confidence issue in the government of the day and triggered the dissolution of parliament.
Mr Johnson intends to repeal the act and revert the power to dissolve parliament to royal prerogative, which is carried out on the advice of the prime minister. The new measures are part of a constitutional reform package pledged in the Conservative party’s 2019 election manifesto.
The new procedure for calling elections also raises the prospect of extending the current parliament. Under the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act, the next general election was due in May 2024. Once it is repealed, Mr Johnson will have until December 2024 to call an election.
Chloe Smith, the constitution minister, said fixed-term parliaments had created “constitutional chaos” and reverting to the traditional prerogative system for calling elections would benefit the country.
“Ultimately, at critical moments for our country, we trust the public to decide. So we are going back to the system that lets elections happen when they are needed. We want to return to constitutional arrangements that give people more confidence in what to expect, and more security.”
Catherine Haddon, senior fellow at the Institute for Government think-tank, said the biggest change following the new legislation would be between prime ministers and their parties.
“Under the fixed-term act, the prime minister couldn’t threaten his or her own party with an election. Nor could they pressure MPs into votes based on the prospect of going to the country. I’m sure it’s something the current PM is thinking about.”
The draft legislation also states that prerogative powers cannot be reviewed by the courts: it follows the Supreme Court’s decision last autumn to overturn Mr Johnson’s contentious decision to prorogue parliament, a step he took — according to critics — to reduce the time MPs had to scrutinise his Brexit deal.
Gina Miller, the anti-Brexit campaigner, lambasted the legislation as “another power grab” that would help Mr Johnson secure a second term. “The FTPA and his illegal prorogation are completely separate. Falsehood to conflate the two,” she tweeted.
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