How U.K. Conservatives Can Dump May, Trigger Election

(Bloomberg) -- U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May was described as a “dead woman walking” after losing her Conservative Party’s majority in the June 2017 election. She survived that setback -- and many more since, but she’s in trouble again. The Brexit deal she’s struck to leave the European Union is so loathed within her Conservative Party that her own lawmakers have triggered a leadership challenge that could derail the government.

1. When is the vote and what exactly is at stake?

Today, between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. London time, with results expected by 9 p.m. Conservative lawmakers are voting on the leadership of the party in a secret ballot. In the U.K., the leader of the ruling party is the prime minister. If May loses the vote, she stands to lose the premiership.

2. Would ousting May as party leader trigger an election?

No. The Conservatives, known as Tories, would set about choosing a new leader. The challenge would eat into the time available to get a Brexit deal through Parliament before exit day on March 29.

3. Do Conservatives have the votes to push May out?

That’s unclear. Ejecting her as party leader will require the votes of a simple majority of the 315 Conservative lawmakers. That means 158 would have to vote to push her out, though some could abstain. Many of them are hesitant to undermine the prime minister, since they worry this could destabilize the government further and offer a path to power for Jeremy Corbyn’s socialist Labour Party. Should May survive a no-confidence vote, she can’t be challenged again as party leader for a year.

4. How was the vote triggered?

The leadership crisis was triggered after May took the dramatic decision on Monday to postpone a crunch vote in Parliament on whether to approve or reject the Brexit deal she has struck with the EU. Disgruntled Conservatives were able to force a vote of no confidence after at least 15 percent, or 48, of the party’s lawmakers sent letters demanding such a vote to Graham Brady, the chairman of a Tory body called the 1922 Committee. If may loses the vote, the first ballot in the new leadership contest will be held on Tuesday, Brady said.

Read more: How the Conservative Party leadership vote will work

5. Could anything else trigger an election?

Yes. Lawmakers could mount a different kind of confidence vote, a Parliament-wide vote of no-confidence, which determines whether the entire government can stay in office. If the government fails to win the votes of a majority of the members of the House of Commons, the clock starts ticking. Successive votes are held and Parliament has 14 days to find a government that can win a confidence vote. If no government can win a vote in that time, Parliament is said to be dissolved and a general election is scheduled. The next vote is currently due in 2022.

6. What is the 1922 Committee?

Operating in the oak-paneled, neo-gothic splendor of committee room 14 in London’s decaying Parliament complex, the group takes its name from a meeting of Tories in 1922 that called for the end of the party’s coalition with the Liberals, bringing down the government of David Lloyd George. Nowadays it serves as a line of communication between the party’s leadership -- sat in the front row in the House of Commons -- and the backbenchers. The committee has a long history of holding Conservative leaders to account. On coming to power, David Cameron tried and failed to dilute the influence of the committee by proposing to open up its membership.

The Reference Shelf

  • A trader’s guide to the leadership challenge vote.
  • The Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law offers a guide to the Brexit’s deal path through Parliament.
  • The U.K. Cabinet Manual details procedures for Parliament.
  • The Fixed-term Parliaments Act of 2011 establishes election timetables.

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