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The four scenarios that could force Rishi Sunak out before election

Pressure is growing on Prime Minister Rishi Sunak from within his own party amid fears of a wipeout for the Conservatives at the local and general election.

There have been reports that Tory MPs have considered replacing Mr Sunak with his former leadership rival Penny Mordaunt in the run-up to the general election, which is set to take place this year.

With a recent poll suggesting that the Conservatives could end up with fewer than 100 MPs after the election, there are a number of scenarios that could see Mr Sunak removed as Prime Minister before the election is held.

The King blocks a general election

While Charles cannot directly call for a general election, in constitutional terms he can give permission to the Prime Minister to dissolve Parliament for election when they ask.

Under the Lascelles Principles ‚Äď set out in 1950 by Alan Lascelles, who was chancellor at the time ‚Äď the monarch has the right to be consulted by the Prime Minister on key decisions such as the calling of a general election.

These principles also set out three scenarios where the monarch could refuse a Prime Minister’s request for a general election.

The first of these is if Parliament is still ‚Äúvital, viable, and capable of doing its job‚ÄĚ. One possible scenario that could be covered by this principle is if an election has recently been held, meaning the Prime Minister could not call another one in the hopes of getting a better result.

The second is if a general election would be ‚Äúdetrimental to the national economy‚ÄĚ, such as if there were a major continuing financial crisis or if the timing of the election could impact the economy.

The third is if monarch could ‚Äúrely on finding another prime minister who could govern for a reasonable period with a working majority in the House of Commons‚ÄĚ.

In other words, the King could refuse a general election if there is another party leader, another party or a coalition of parties that is ready and able to govern if the current administration has lost the support of the Commons.

Since the UK is currently approaching the end of the five-year limit for a Parliamentary term, it is extremely unlikely that the King would block a general election.

But, it is still possible that the monarch could refuse the proposed timing of an election if there are genuine concerns about the date the Prime Minister is proposing.

If this happens, the Prime Minister would most likely face a no-confidence vote in the Commons which they would either lose or would prompt them to resign.

Britain's King Charles III greets well-wishers as he leaves St. George's Chapel, in Windsor Castle, after attending the Easter Mattins Service, on March 31, 2024. (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP) (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images)
The King has the power to block a general election, which could lead to Rishi Sunak being ousted as Prime Minister (Photo: Justin Tallis/AFP via Getty Images)

Rishi Sunak faces a leadership challenge

Under current party rules, a challenge to Rishi Sunak’s leadership could be triggered if 15 per cent of Conservative MPs write to the chair of the 1922 Committee expressing a lack of confidence in the Prime Minister.

Conservative MPs can then vote in a secret ballot either for or against the Prime Minister, with only a simple majority needed for victory on either side.

If the Prime Minister loses the contest, a leadership election begins in which the ousted leader cannot stand. If they win and remain in office, a new contest cannot be triggered for another year.

The most recent party no-confidence vote was held in 2022, just weeks before Boris Johnson was forced to resign as prime minister. He won the contest with the support of 59 per cent of Tory MPs.

Margaret Thatcher also faced two leadership challenges during her final year as prime minister, but those contests operated under different party rules.

The first, mounted by backbench MP Sir Anthony Meyer in December 1989, was won by Thatcher, who got 314 votes to his 33.

In November 1990, a second challenge was launched by Michael Heseltine. She secured 204 votes to his 152 in the first round of voting but failed to get the 15 per cent majority required for victory.

A second round of voting was due to be held, but Thatcher resigned before this could take place.

Rishi Sunak faces a Commons no-confidence vote

An expected rule of the Commons is that the Government has to have the confidence of the majority of the House in order to govern.

If there is dissatisfaction with the current administration, a motion of confidence can be moved which is voted on by all MPs, regardless of which party they represent.

No-confidence motions can also take place on legislation which the Government at the time has indicated is a ‚Äúmatter of confidence‚ÄĚ or on key bits of legislation such as the Budget or King‚Äôs Speech.

When a specific motion is tabled in the Commons, it is usually put forward by the main opposition party at the time, and MPs are then able to debate the issue before they vote.

Labour could, therefore, table a no-confidence motion if they had a specific issue with Mr Sunak’s administration, such as his handling of an area of legislation or his conduct in government.

The last time a Government was defeated this way was in 1979, when the Labour Party under Prime Minister Jim Callaghan lost a confidence vote in the Commons. In this case, the vote led to a general election being called. However, it is also possible for a no-confidence vote to lead to a change in administration, with another party taking over.

Rishi Sunak is forced to resign

Prime Ministers have historically resigned for various reasons ranging from backlash over a scandal, loss of control of their party or health-related reasons.

2022 saw two Prime Ministerial resignations, with Boris Johnson forced out over his handling of the Partygate scandal and Liz Truss ousted amid backlash over her controversial mini-Budget.

Labour prime minister Tony Blair announced he would resign amid ongoing backlash to his Government’s handling of the Iraq War, while Margaret Thatcher’s resignation was brought on by the controversial poll tax and opposition to her Eurosceptic views.

Numerous scenarios could force Rishi Sunak to choose to leave Downing Street of his own accord, but the trigger point will likely be widespread rebellion and criticism from within his party.

Tory plotters have already indicated that Mr Sunak could face a difficult month in the wake of the 2 May local elections, which are expected to be particularly damaging for the Conservative Party.

Rebels are reportedly planning to put pressure on the Prime Minister, which some have suggested could lead to his resignation.

There’s also the possibility that, to avoid a leadership contest, Rishi Sunak may opt for a summer election rather than step down.

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