Boris Johnson is expected to push for a general election if the EU agrees to a three-month delay to Brexit until 31 January.
He has three options.
A motion for a general election
Under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011, an election may be called if it is agreed by two-thirds of the total number of MPs. When Theresa May held one of these votes before the snap 2017 election, 522 MPs to 18 voted in favour of returning to the polls earlier than 2020. Boris Johnson presented motions for an election on 4 and 9 September and failed on both occasions when the majority of Labour MPs abstained. Jeremy Corbyn said he would only back an election once the threat of a no-deal Brexit had been taken off the table.
Johnson could try this again and potentially get Labour backing because the Benn Act has removed the imminent possibility of a no-deal Brexit. The shadow justice secretary, Richard Burgon, reiterated on Wednesday that Labour’s policy is to back an election if they can guarantee that they will not be bounced into a no-deal scenario. However, the party may feel the threat has not truly been removed and may need further reassurances.
It is seen as the favoured option because it is unamendable and gives a fixed election date.
A one-line bill
This lowers the threshold of MPs needed to trigger a general election because it requires a simple majority to pass. This could work in Johnson’s favour. However, it is amendable, which can involve the moving of an election date to a time that works for the opposition. The former Conservative Ken Clarke said it could also be amended to lower the voting age to 16 and there could be other surprise changes thrown in by opposition parties. Johnson has so far resisted this, as it is seen as giving him less power over the process and, with no majority, amendments would be likely to pass. It is still thought that this is not a favoured option by the government.
A no-confidence motion
Under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act, the leader of the opposition, Jeremy Corbyn, can call a no-confidence motion in the prime minister. This needs a simple majority to pass. He has been urged to do this by Johnson several times as a way of triggering an election but Corbyn resisted because he felt the risk of a no-deal Brexit had not been removed. It also opens up a can of worms for Labour as it begins a 14-day period in which either the prime minister or someone else can try and form a new government. While Johnson could potentially lose this, and therefore his place as prime minister, to another Tory, Corbyn could also be in trouble as he might struggle to get enough MPs to rally around him to form a government. The SNP have said they would back him but the Lib Dems have been extremely vocal in saying they do not think he is fit to lead.
An election is triggered if, at the end of the two-week period, no alternative government has been formed.