What exactly is the point of the Fixed Term Parliaments Act?

Photograph: 'Voting' / Flickr

Somewhat spectacularly, and fuelling the idea Britain is slowly turning republican, the Theresa May did not request a dissolution of Parliament from the Queen for the forthcoming general election.

This change in centuries-old procedure is as a direct result of the Fixed Term Parliaments Act (2011). Introduced as a constitutional reform under the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government, the Prime Minister can only call a general election if one of two situations arise. Either, a two-thirds majority in favour of the election is secured in Parliament, or the government loses a vote of no-confidence. It’s no longer the case that the Queen is exclusively consulted at the leisure of her Prime Minister.

Indeed, the essence of the Fixed Term Parliaments Act was to reduce the power of the Prime Minister, by removing a key Royal Prerogative power to ensure that a general election could not be called at a favourable time for the executive. Former Liberal Democrat leader and Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, stated that “by setting the date that parliament will dissolve, our Prime Minister is giving up the right to pick and choose the date of the next general election- that’s a true first in British politics”.

Despite the principle, the portrayed power of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act seems to have, at once, vanished in light of the calls for the general election on 8th June. What’s the point of it? If a Prime Minister and the power of the Crown are subject to Parliament in this fashion, but the former can still decide they want to hold an election, is it not all the same dance?

Consider for a moment what would happen if the PM was denied their efforts to hold a general election after officiating over a Cabinet meeting to do so and then telling the nation of their plan?

More accurately, do the freedoms of British people depend on the Fixed-term Act, and was what came before so bad? What is clear is one day a PM will be denied their previously held constitutional right to call for a general election by Parliament, and a tension will erupt that will test the country to its limit.


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Oliver Murphy 24 Articles
Oliver is currently an A-Level Politics student. He is also a contributory writer, campaigner for MakeVotesMatter and Media Manager for DARROW. His work focuses on British politics, contemporary political events and European politics. Supplementing this is a passion for Literature and History.

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