In a unanimous vote, MPs approved the Dissolution and Calling of Parliament Bill, which repeals legislation passed in 2011 that limited the duration of each Parliament to five years.
The measure will now be sent to the House of Lords for consideration; but, if the bill receives unanimous support from peers, does this imply that we will all be voting in the near future?
And does it make a difference who gets to select the date on which the nation will have its next election?
What is the Fixed Term Parliament Act, and how does it work?
The Federal Election Procedures Act (FTPA) is a legislation that mandates that general elections be conducted every five years, unless there are exceptional circumstances (more on that in a bit).
When no one political party was able to secure a majority, the unexpected bedfellows of the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats struck an agreement to form a government.
Anxious Liberal Democrats sought some assurance that the Conservatives would not abandon them as soon as they took power.
As a result, the Fixed Term Parliament Act came into being.
It abolished the Prime Minister’s customary authority to select the date of elections, and instead mandated that elections be held every five years in May, as was previously the case.
If two-thirds of MPs vote in favour of calling an early election, or if there is a vote of no confidence and no one else is able to win the support of MPs within two weeks, an early election will be called.
This made it possible to hold an early election in 2017 – but Theresa May’s attempt to win a majority ultimately failed.
A second piece of legislation was approved to enable Boris Johnson to go to the nation and call an election in the next year.
The Conservative Party’s 2019 platform – and, indeed, the Labour Party’s manifesto as well – both pledged to abolish the act and return the powers to the government if elected.
What exactly does the new Dissolution Bill accomplish?
The law accomplishes three goals:
The Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 is being repealed.
Parliament is dissolved at the request of the prime minister, as was customary before the Restoration of the Monarchy.
This prevents the courts or a tribunal from getting involved and reevaluating the time frame.
It all comes down to time – and who has the authority to fire the starter pistol.
Rather than being tied into set terms of five years, the new law gives the authority to choose the date back to the incumbent prime minister, rather than to Parliament, as was the case before.
Furthermore, a Parliament will only serve for a maximum of five terms before an election is called.
What does the next Brexit referendum in 2019 have to do with it?
This year, Parliament was paralysed by the Brexit impasse, with the Conservative government unable to go on with its plans to withdraw from the EU by the deadline of October 31.
For a temporary solution to the impasse, Boris Johnson petitioned the Queen to “prorogue,” or in other words, to shut down Parliament.
A five-week shutdown – much longer than normal – between 9 September and 14 October was requested so that he could begin a new session and ask MPs to ratify the exit deal with the European Union (EU).
This is due to the fact that the Speaker, John Bercow, had refused to allow MPs to vote on the proposal again unless there were significant modifications.
What is the point of any of this?
It is advantageous for an incumbent administration to be able to dictate the schedule of a general election, not least because it allows them to choose a date that they think will be most favourable to their re-election prospects.
The Conservatives’ commanding lead in opinion polls, along with the prospect of an economic rebound from Covid, has sparked election speculation in Westminster.
Even if certain provisions of the bill are modified in the House of Lords, the prime minister will retain the authority to call a general election if the legislation is passed and becomes law.