Can the King call a general election? Here’s how a general election can be called

Find out the different ways an early general election can be called in the UK

A close up of King Charles wearing reading glasses
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Can the King call a general election is the question many people are asking, as Liz Truss struggles to hold on to her position.

Liz Truss appeared to rule out the possibility of a snap election when she took office, saying she "will deliver a great victory for the Conservative Party in 2024". But now that she's resigned after just 45 days in office, many are frustrated with the current Government and beginning to ask when is the next general election (opens in new tab) and what happens when a Prime Minister resigns (opens in new tab).

With no news of an early election just yet, questions are also being raised about who might be able to call one. And just like people were asking can the Queen sack the Prime Minister (opens in new tab) during the final days of Boris Johnson's government, many are again wondering what power the sovereign has - including whether the King can call a general election.

Can the King call a general election?

The King cannot call a general election. While it is the monarch who officially dissolves Parliament for an election, in modern times the King would not do this without the request of the Prime Minister.

The Dissolution and Calling of Parliament Act 2022 allows a Prime Minister to request a dissolution from the Sovereign which, if granted, would enable a Prime Minister to call a general election at a time of their choosing. So, technically, the King could block a general election, but not call one. 

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How can a general election be called?

The Dissolution and Calling of Parliament Act 2022 repealed the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 and handed the power to call a general election back to the Prime Minister.

The Fixed-term Parliaments Act meant that a PM could only call an election in three circumstances: it had been 5 years since the previous election, a no-confidence motion had been passed by a simple majority in the House of Commons, or if two thirds of MPs had passed a motion for a general election. 

Now, however, the new Act has revived "the power of the monarch to dissolve Parliament, at the request of the Prime Minister of the day." Meaning it is only the Prime Minister who can call an election.

The last time an early election was called was in 2019 - and before that was just two years earlier, in 2017 - and both were called under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act. In both cases, the early elections were brought about by two thirds of MPs voting for them.

Can Labour force a general election?

Labour cannot force a general election. The only way Labour could have an influence on an early election being called is by instigating a no-confidence vote against the Government.

If the Government lost the vote, the Prime Minister would be expected to resign or call an election. However, the chances of this happening are unlikely, as it would mean a large number of Tory MPs would have to vote against their own government.

Can the public force a general election?

The public cannot force a general election, though they may be able to influence the Prime Minister's decision to hold one.

An e-petition (opens in new tab) that has received over 640,000 signatures forced the Government into debating the possibility of an early general election on 17 October, with the Government responding to the petition by saying, "The United Kingdom is a Parliamentary democracy, not a Presidential one. Following the general election of December 2019, Members of Parliament of the governing party (the Conservative Party) were elected, such that there is a majority in the House of Commons. This remains the case. A change in the leader of the governing party does not trigger a general election – this has been the case under governments of successive political colours."

Who is calling for a general election?

The Labour Party, some media organisations and some members of the public are calling for a general election.

In an interview with the Guardian (opens in new tab), Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said he believed an immediate general election is necessary, adding, "We are in the absurd situation where we are on the third, fourth prime minister in six years and within weeks we have a got a prime minister who has the worst reputational ratings of any prime minister pretty well in history.

"For the good of the country we need a general election."

The Independent has launched a petition (opens in new tab) calling for a general election, saying, "Liz Truss had no mandate for her abrupt change of direction when she became prime minister – except from 81,000 Conservative Party members, a tiny and unrepresentative section of the population."

They added, that whoever replaces her as PM should put their case to the British people.

The petition reached 20,000 signatures in just under a day, while a recent poll (opens in new tab) has given Labour a 36-point lead over the Conservatives.

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