What happens if?

Joining the dots: About 45.8m people were already registered to vote — how will 3.1m extra voters tilt the scales?

With election day next week, what might happen? Although the polls suggest a Tory majority, who knows what will actually happen? So, here are a few of the main possible outcomes.

  • What happens if there is no clear result?

    Well, especially if the results are close, we may not know the exact balance of power in the new House of Commons until late on 13 Friday.

    If no single party wins a clear majority, then the fun starts.

    In 2010 when this happened, negotiations to form a new government went on for five long days. The defeated Gordon Brown remained in Downing Street as Prime Minister until the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats finalised a coalition deal and David Cameron took over.

    When Theresa May lost her majority in 2017, she stayed on as Prime Minister by doing a deal with the Democratic Unionist Party’s 10 MPs, giving her an effective majority.

    Taking time to form a government is not unusual in many countries. Eight years ago, Belgium managed to take 541 days to form a government!

  • So, what do we know for certain?

    If Boris Johnson loses and is not the head of the largest party, he remains as Prime Minister until a new government coalition, or agreement, can be reached. Otherwise — but rarely — the head of the largest party might be called upon to form a minority government.

    If Johnson is the head of the largest party, he can continue either as the head of a new coalition or as head of what is called a minority government — a government without a House of Commons majority.

  • What happens if the Tories win, but Boris Johnson loses his seat?

    Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson’s constituency) is not a safe Conservative seat. He won in 2017 with a majority of 5,034, or 10.8% of the votes, which makes it almost a marginal.

    So, he could conceivably lose his seat. What happens then?

    There is no law that says a Prime Minister has to be an MP in the House of Commons. But there is a very strong constitutional convention that they should be.

    In 1963, Alec Douglas Home, a member of the House of Lords, was chosen by the Tory party to become Prime Minister. He had to resign his seat in the Lords, get a Tory MP in a safe seat to stand down, and stand for election to the Commons. But for 20 days, he was Prime Minister without being a member of the Lords or the Commons.

    So, Johnson could, in theory, remain as Prime Minister whilst a safe seat was found for him. Whether that would prove politically acceptable to the general public in 2019 is debatable. And if the Tories were not a majority, it would be even more controversial.

  • If Labour are the second largest party, could they be called on to form a government?

    Unlikely. Much more likely that the Tories would try to rule as a minority government, which they could do until they lost a vote of confidence.

    But there is nothing to say that Boris Johnson has to stand down as Prime Minister at that point. He could let the clock run down on the 14 days allowed for a fresh vote of confidence, and let another election be triggered.

    It has been speculated that Labour could put themselves forward, but they would almost certainly have to show they could command a majority in the Commons before that would happen. That would need some indication from other parties that they would not vote to bring down the Government, at least not immediately.

  • Who makes the decisions about these things?

    Constitutionally, it is the Queen, but everything possible would be done to avoid her getting embroiled in any risky or controversial choices. She is advised by the sitting Prime Minister, but she doesn’t absolutely have to take the advice.

    She also gets advice separately from what is called the “golden triangle”: her private secretary, the cabinet secretary and the Prime Minister’s private secretary. They act as guardians of the constitutional customs.

  • What happens about Brexit if a new government is delayed or can’t be formed?

    If Boris Johnson’s Withdrawal Agreement is not passed in Parliament by 31 January 2020, the UK will leave the EU without any agreement in place.

    The only way to stop that is to pass the necessary legislation or ask the EU for yet another extension.

    This briefing is produced by The Day in association with ENGAGE Public Policy.

You Decide

  1. There’s been a surge in voter registrations among the 18-35 age group. Which parties are better for younger people?


  1. In the event of a hung Parliament, when no single party has a majority, which parties should team up to form a coalition? Re-read our round-up of all the main manifestos and, in small groups, make a presentation explaining who you think could work together.

Word Watch

Clear majority
In parliamentary terms, “majority” means “more than half” of the votes cast. A hung parliament is when no particular political party has an absolute majority of seats in Parliament.
Gordon Brown
UK Prime Minister and leader of the Labour Party from 2007 to 2010.
In the political sense, a group formed when two or more parties come together.
Relating to an established set of principles for governing a country.
The way something is usually done.
Deeply involved in an argument or difficult situation.

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