Theresa May should scrap fixed-term parliaments and call an early general election, the former Tory leader Lord Hague says today, as a poll showed support for Jeremy Corbyn collapsing among Labour Party members.
Lord Hague warns that “trouble is coming” over the next two years as the Government tries to implement Brexit, and says the Prime Minister needs a bigger Commons majority to force through change.
The next general election is due to take place in May 2020, but Lord Hague argues in the Daily Telegraph that if the Fixed Term Parliaments Act did not exist, the case for an election this spring would have been “very strong indeed”.
That argument was strengthened on Monday by a YouGov opinion poll that found half of Labour Party members believe Jeremy Corbyn should step down as leader before the next election.
A total of 36 per cent of Labour Party members believe Mr Corbyn should quit immediately, with another 14 per cent saying he should resign before the country goes to the polls in three years’ time. An equivalent poll by the same company last year found that 63 per cent of members wanted him to fight the next election.
Mr Corbyn already lacks support among Labour MPs, but the YouGov poll is highly significant because it was Labour members who chose him as leader, and it is his backing from the membership which has, until now, deterred other potential leaders from challenging him.
If Mr Corbyn’s base erodes further, it could encourage a fresh attempt to replace him with a leader who could mount a stronger challenge to Mrs May in 2020.
Lord Hague said Mr Corbyn was Labour’s “least credible leader ever” and had led his party to “its worst condition since the 1930s”.
The Conservatives’ historic by-election win in Copeland last month, when the Government became the first to gain a seat from an opposition party for 35 years, had already prompted calls from some Tory MPs for an early election, with at least two Cabinet ministers said to be in favour of one.
But fixed-term parliaments - introduced as a concession to the Liberal Democrats during the coalition government - can only be overridden by a Commons vote in which at least two-thirds of MPs back an early election, or by a vote of no confidence in the Government.
Lord Hague, the most senior Conservative figure to call publicly for an early election, suggests that with Labour MPs unlikely to back an early election, repealing the Fixed Term Parliaments Act is the only answer.
He writes that while the Act was necessary to satisfy the LibDems and enable the formation of a coalition government, “six years on the circumstances are very different, and it is time to question whether a fixed parliamentary term is in the interests of the country as we withdraw from the European Union”.
He adds: “We have a new Prime Minister and Cabinet facing the most complex challenges of modern times: Brexit negotiations, the Trump administration, the threat from Scottish nationalists, and many other issues.
“There is no doubt that they would be in a stronger position to take the country through these challenges successfully if they had a large and decisive majority in the Commons and a new full term ahead of them.”
Mrs May has made it clear to her Cabinet colleagues that she does not favour an early election, because she thinks it would be self-serving and create added uncertainty at a time when the country needs stability.
Lord Hague, however, argues that she would be doing the right thing for the country by calling an election, as a larger Commons majority would strengthen her hand during Brexit negotiations with the EU.
It would also be desirable when it comes to getting the final Brexit deal through Parliament. “Any deal is bound to be full of compromises which one group or another in Parliament finds difficult to stomach,” writes Lord Hague. “As British law needs to be amended countless times to take account of leaving the EU treaties, the Government could face many close votes, concessions or defeats as it tries to implement Brexit.
“That prospect will embolden the EU negotiators, and makes an agreement that is good for the UK harder to achieve. It could also lead to a situation where the Prime Minister faces a standoff with parliament over a deal that will have taken two years to negotiate and is nearly impossible to change.”
Today the Government faces its second Parliamentary defeat on Brexit in the space of a week, when Lords vote on a proposed amendment to the Article 50 bill which would give the Commons a “meaningful vote” on the final Brexit deal before it is finalised.
Last week peers voted to amend the Bill to guarantee the rights of EU citizens living in the UK. The amendments are expected to be overturned in the Commons next week.