Election date decision should not be in control of PM

The Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee has said that the power to choose the date of the next General Election should not be handed back to Prime Ministers.

Boris Johnson is currently committed to scrapping the 2011 Fixed-Term Parliaments Act, which he blames for prolonging the Brexit paralysis that gripped Parliament last year. The Act was brought in by David Cameron's coalition government under the influence of Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, who wanted a guarantee that the Conservatives would not call an early election, leaving his Liberal Democrats stranded.

Under the Act, the next UK General Election will be on Thursday 2 May 2024 - but Johnson is seeking the power to go to the country before that date if he wants to. However, the committee says that there should be no return to the days when the date of the next election was a matter for the government alone, which would give an unfair advantage to the party in power.

Under the terms of the Act, there can only be an early election if the government lost a vote of confidence or there is a two-thirds ‘super majority’ in the House of Commons.

The new report from the cross-party group pf MPs says that change is needed to prevent a repeat of last year's ‘paralysis’ when MPs refused to back the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal but would not vote for an election. The MPs also say that a return to previous systems, whereby Prime Ministers were able to seek a dissolution of Parliament from the Queen to hold an early election, could lead to legal challenges - instead making the case for a five-year term to be the ‘default’ position at Westminster.

William Wragg, who chairs the committee, said: "Although new legislation is required, our report shows that the Fixed-term Parliaments Act did go some way to achieving some of its key aims. Witnesses noted that the Act also succeeded in its narrow political aim of giving stability to the coalition government, which served its full term.

"It also limited the ability of incumbent governments to gain an unfair advantage over their opponents by choosing an election date that suits their political ends. Whatever legislation replaces the Act it is important that this 'level playing field' for democracy is maintained."