Wednesday 16 January 2019

That this House has no confidence in Her Majesty’s Government.

Updated 17 January

We are certainly living in "interesting times."  The "meaningful vote" was lost by 432 to 202 - a majority against of 230 - (previous post) and see the Hansard record of the debate (here).

After losing the vote, the Prime Minister said - " ... we need to confirm whether the Government still enjoy the confidence of the House. I believe that they do, but given the scale and importance of tonight’s vote it is right that others have the chance to test that question if they wish to do so. I can therefore confirm that if the official Opposition table a confidence motion this evening in the form required by the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011, the Government will make time to debate that motion tomorrow."

The Leader of the Opposition responded by saying - " .... I have now tabled a motion of no confidence in this Government, and I am pleased that that motion will be debated tomorrow ..."

Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011:

The Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 was enacted during the time of the Conservative / Liberal Democrat government of 2010-15.  The Act provided that general elections would be ordinarily be held on the first Thursday in May every five years.  But, the FTPA also made provision for holding early parliamentary general elections.  The trigger for such general elections would be either a vote of no confidence in the Government, following which the House of Commons did not pass a motion of confidence in a Government within 14 days, or a vote by at least two-thirds of all MPs in favour of an early election.  The Queen does not retain any residual power to dissolve Parliament, which will occur automatically under the provisions in the Act.

A motion of no confidence has to be in the form specified by the Act - "That this House has no confidence in Her Majesty’s Government."

Under FTPA section 2 there will be a Vote of No Confidence (VNC).  If the government loses that vote then 14 days are allowed to provide an opportunity for an alternative Government to be formed without an election.  The House of Commons has to pass a motion expressing confidence in that government.   If that cannot be achieved then a general election is triggered.

Election timescale and consequences:

The timescale for a general election is worth noting.  In 2017, Parliament was dissolved on 3 May and the election held on 8 June.- a period of 35 clear days.  The Electoral Commission has published  guidance on the timetable for a general election.

If a general election comes about as a result of today's VNC, the likelihood is that the election would be held in March - very close to Brexit day which is currently 29 March.

In turn, that raises the question of whether Article 50 should be extended.  The EU Council has to agree unanimously to an extension.  The purpose of requesting such an extension would be to allow time for the new UK government to present alternative proposals for a withdrawal agreement.  

What those alternative proposals might be is far from clear since MPs rejected the withdrawal agreement without any clear view as to the alternative.

Will there actually be an election?

The probability is that the May government will win the VNC but not by a large margin.  After all, it is a minority government.  Conservative MPs who chose to vote against the withdrawal agreement will return to the fold to keep their Party in power and the DUP - (the government's supply and confidence partner) - will vote for the government.  Labour and the Scottish Nationalists will vote against the May government.

What happens if the government wins the VNC?

Mrs May gave some indication at the end of the debate - "If the House confirms its confidence in this Government, I will then hold meetings with my colleagues, our confidence and supply partner the Democratic Unionist party, and senior parliamentarians from across the House to identify what would be required to secure the backing of the House. The Government will approach those meetings in a constructive spirit, but given the urgent need to make progress we must focus on ideas that are genuinely negotiable and have sufficient support in this House ....  if those meetings yield such ideas the Government will then explore them with the European Union."

Assuming that new "genuinely negotiable" ideas emerge then the question of extending Article 50 is again raised.


The vote of no confidence motion was lostby 306 votes to 325.

The debate may be read at Hansard 16 January 2019

After the vote, the Prime Minister said - " ... We have a responsibility to identify a way forward that can secure the backing of the House, and to that end I have proposed a series of meetings between senior parliamentarians and representatives of the Government over the coming days. I should like to invite the leaders of parliamentary parties to meet me individually, and I should like to start those meetings tonight. The Government approach the meetings in a constructive spirit, and I urge others to do the same, but we must find solutions that are negotiable and command sufficient support in the House. As I have said, we will return to the House on Monday to table an amendable motion and to make a statement about the way forward ..."

Other links:

House of Commons Library - No confidence motions and early general elections

Public Law for Everyone - Confidence motions and the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act

House of Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (PACAC) interim report on the effect of confidence motions in the light of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 (FTPA).  

David Henig 15 January - The Prime Minister's negotiation failed - the UK must learn the lessons

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