I see there is now talk of opposition parties seeking to move a vote of no confidence in the government, but one that does not engage the provisions of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act. For a motion to trigger the provisions of section 2 0f the Act, the motion ‘That this House has no confidence in Her Majesty’s Government’ has to be passed. Any other wording does not qualify. It is possible to put down a motion expressing a lack of confidence in the government, but in a different form of words.
As I explained in my 2016 article, ‘The Fixed-term Parliaments Act and Votes of Confidence’, published in Parliamentary Affairs, the Act affected only part of the constitutional convention governing votes of confidence. It removed the capacity of the Prime Minister to declare a vote one of confidence and to say that, if lost, an election would ensue. If the vote was lost, the Prime Minister would still, by convention, be expected to resign.
In summary, a government for its continuance in office rests upon the confidence of the House of Commons. If that confidence is withdrawn, it cannot continue in office. That withdrawal of confidence may be expressed through an explicit vote of no confidence. If expressed in the words stipulated in section 2(4) of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act, the 14-day period is triggered, within which if a government does not achieve passage of the motion ‘That this House has confidence in Her Majesty’s Government’ then a general election ensues. (The Act is silent on who can form the government for the purpose of seeking that vote of confidence.) It may be expressed by a motion stating no confidence, but in a different form to that stipulated in the Act. By convention, the government would then be expected to resign, the Act having removed the option of seeking a dissolution.
There are discussions reported to be taking place among opposition parties as to an alternative Prime Minister. Voting no confidence in the government does not entail voting confidence in anyone else. The Leader of the Opposition is designated as such because s/he leads the party that stands ready to form a government in the event of the existing government ceasing to govern. However, it is not clear that the Leader of the Opposition at present could mobilise a majority.
We are thus in stormy waters, where the charts as to the way out are not as comprehensive as one may wish.
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