How does a vote of no confidence in the government work?

17 January 2019

In January 2019 Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour Party, put forward a “motion of no confidence” in Theresa May’s government following parliament’s heavy rejection of her Brexit withdrawal agreement.

Calling a motion of no confidence is one of two ways that an early general election can be triggered, under the terms of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011. This was the first time a no confidence vote had been called since the passing of the Act.

The other way to trigger an early general election under the Act is if at least two thirds of MPs support a motion calling for an early general election—which is what happened when Theresa May called her snap election in 2017.

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How does a vote of no confidence work?

The vote of no confidence is formally brought about through a motion in parliament stating “That this House has no confidence in Her Majesty’s Government”, which is debated and then voted on. If a majority of MPs vote in favour of the motion, then the government will be dissolved.

But this wouldn’t automatically trigger a general election

If the government is brought down by the vote, there would follow a 14-day period in which to form a new government, based on the existing make-up of MPs.

The House of Commons would then have to vote on whether or not they now had confidence in the new government. Were this to fail, a general election would be triggered.

The government survived the January 2019 vote

325 MPs voted against the motion of no confidence, compared with 306 in favour. This meant the House continued to express confidence in the government.

Crucially, the government retained the support of the Democratic Unionist Party, and Conservative MPs from the pro-Brexit “European Research Group” in this vote. That’s despite both the DUP and the chair of the ERG, Jacob Rees-Mogg, voting against the withdrawal agreement the day before.

Despite surviving the vote, the Institute for Government told us another no confidence vote could still be called at any time. This is different to the process used for a no confidence vote within the Conservative Party, where the leader cannot be challenged for a year if they survive a vote of no confidence from Conservative MPs (as Theresa May did in December).

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