Johnson to restore power to choose general election date

The Government will legislate to repeal David Cameron’s Fixed-Term Parliaments Act.

Boris Johnson speaking in the House of Commons
Boris Johnson speaking in the House of Commons

Boris Johnson is to push ahead with plans to restore the power of the Prime Minister to choose the timing of general elections.

A Dissolution and Calling of Parliament Bill announced in the Queen’s Speech will repeal the Fixed-term Parliaments Act (FTPA) which led to Commons deadlock over Brexit.

At the same time ministers are to introduce controversial measures to require people to produce proof of identity when going to vote.

Nick Clegg and David Cameron
The Fixed-term Parliaments Act was introduced by the coalition under David Cameron (right) and Nick Clegg (Christopher Furlong/PA)

Critics have warned that tens of thousands of voters risk being disenfranchised because they do not have any suitable form of ID.

The FTPA – setting five-year parliamentary terms except in specific circumstances – was originally introduced by David Cameron’s coalition government in 2011.

It was intended to reassure the Liberal Democrats that the Conservatives could not simply call a snap election when it suited them, leaving their partners high and dry.

However, it resulted in paralysis in the last parliament when Mr Johnson was unable to get his Brexit legislation through the Commons but at the same time could not seek a new mandate from voters in a general election.

A voter placing a ballot paper in the ballot box
Voters will be required to provide proof of identity (Rui Vieira/PA)

The new Bill will restore the royal prerogative powers which enable a prime minister to seek a dissolution of Parliament by the monarch at a time of his or her choosing.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock denied a claim by Tony Blair’s former communications chief Alastair Campbell it was being deliberately brought forward to ensure there was no public inquiry into the Government’s handling of the pandemic until after the next election.

Challenged by Mr Campbell – who was guest presenter on ITV’s Good Morning Britain programme – Mr Hancock replied: “That might have been the approach you took when you were in Downing Street but it is not how we do things Alastair.”

The Government has also come under attack over the Electoral Integrity Bill which will require voters in Great Britain to show their ID when casting their ballot – as is already the case in Northern Ireland.

Ministers argue the measure is necessary to protect against electoral fraud – however critics say there is little evidence that voter “personation” is a serious problem and that it will simply mean turnout at elections is even lower.

Jess Garland, director of policy and research at the Electoral Reform Society, said that minority groups were likely to be particularly affected by the change.

“This policy is misguided and wrong, and risks pulling up the drawbridge to people across the country. Possession of ID is not universal and is particularly low among certain groups of voters,” she said.

“Ministers should focus on the real problems facing our democracy instead, not least the nine million missing from the electoral roll, and Westminster’s warped political system.”

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