Britain's new Prime Minister David Camer...Britain's new Prime Minister David Cameron (L) and new Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, wave as they pose for pictures outside 10 Downing Street in London, on May 12, 2010. British business leaders welcomed the new government under Prime Minister David Cameron Wednesday, but warned it must put cutting the country's record public debt "at the top of the agenda". AFP PHOTO/Carl Court (Photo credit should read Carl Court/AFP/Getty Images)
Guilty parties: David Cameron and Nick Clegg were carried away by coalition © AFP

Is it not high time to put the blame for the chaos in British politics where it truly belongs, on the framers of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act of 2011? Prior to that ill-considered and half-baked measure, a prime minister could stipulate that any measure before the House of Commons was a matter of confidence, with the automatic consequence that if it was lost the prime minister must either resign, leaving it to the sovereign to find another person commanding a majority in the Commons, or — if he or she so chose — advise a dissolution of parliament leading automatically to an immediate election.

This mechanism broke all deadlocks, either by inducing a majority to pass the measure in question (MPs dread elections) or by installing a new ministry capable of governing. I used to give lectures on this theme in the US, extolling its advantages over the frequent deadlock in Washington. Now the Commons has the power simultaneously to deny the prime minister both the power to govern and the power to threaten and call an election — designed-in paralysis.

The men who perpetrated this nonsense in 2010 — David Cameron, Nick Clegg and cabinet secretary Gus O’Donnell — seem to have been carried away by the heady excitement of coalition without proper regard for the fundamental constitutional implications of this change.

Any of Theresa May’s predecessors before 2010 would have made her “significant vote” a matter of confidence, in which case either her deal would have been approved or we should now be having an election and getting a new government or the old government with its authority refreshed — and, either way, able to carry on the Queen’s government, Brexit or no Brexit.

Peter Jay
Woodstock, Oxon, UK

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