Some commentators, as I have previously noted, still appear to be unaware of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act and think that the PM can call a ‘snap’ election. It is no longer in the gift of the PM to ask the Queen for a dissolution of Parliament. The Queen has now no prerogative power of dissolution. If the PM wants an early election, she has to go to the House of Commons to get a 2/3 majority of all MPs for such an election. The only other route is through the House passing a motion of no confidence (and it has to be a motion of no confidence – not a vote of confidence that is lost); if within 14 days a new government is not formed and gets a vote of confidence, an election takes place. An early election is thus possible, but it is not for the PM alone to determine.
Some journalists are now alert to the fact that the Fixed-term Parliaments Act exists and a few appreciate precisely what it entails. However, it is not unusual for reference to the Act to be almost in passing – it can be ‘fixed’ or ‘simply repealed’. The latest example is Peter Oborne in The Daily Mail. It is not clear that those who cover it in this way are cognisant of the provisions of section 2 of the Act. My principal point, though, is in respect of calls for its repeal. The Act cannot be simply repealed or set aside by a vote of the House of Commons. It can only be repealed by another Act of Parliament. This, contrary to the views of Peter Oborne and others, is not that simple. An Act that repealed the 2011 Act and did no more than that would mean that Parliament could potentially continue in perpetuity. Repeal of the 2011 Act does not entail the previous provisions governing elections coming back into force. The Septennial Act 1715 was repealed by the 2011 Act. Section 7 of the Parliament Act 1911 was removed by the 2011 Act. Repealing the 2011 Act does not bring these provisions back into effect. They have gone. There is a dispute about whether the prerogative resumes, but if it does all that means is that Parliament would continue until such time as the Queen agreed to a dissolution. A PM could leave it for some years before requesting a dissolution.
In short, a simple repeal is not politically feasible. The measure would have to stipulate the provisions for future elections. One could put the position back to what it was before September 2011, but that has to be provided for in the Bill. Not everyone may agree to reverting precisely to what existed before. Why not stipulate that the maximum life of a Parliament should be four years rather than five? Why not introduce some limits of the power of the Prime Minister to request a dissolution? This does not mean that one could not get the measure through, but it does mean that it would generate debate and likely attempts to amend it. In short, possible, but not necessarily simple.