U.K.’s New Premier Risks Majority Declining to One in Parliament

Alex Morales

(Bloomberg) -- If you thought Prime Minister Theresa May faced difficult arithmetic in the U.K. House of Commons, then her successor will have it even harder, after a series of defections and the potential loss of two seats in special elections.

Either Boris Johnson, the favorite to be named leader on Tuesday, or Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt faces the prospect of the majority enjoyed by the Conservative Party and their Democratic Unionist Party allies falling to just one. That makes the job of stewarding any vision of Brexit through Parliament trickier, and it also hands more power to the DUP, which refused three times to back the deal May struck with the European Union.

Here’s how the parliamentary arithmetic stacks up:

How many Members of Parliament are there?

There are 650 Members of Parliament. The seven MPs with the Irish Nationalist Sinn Fein party don’t take their seats, while Speaker John Bercow and his three deputies don’t vote, because they’re required to be impartial. That leaves 639 voting MPs -- meaning 320 are needed to guarantee a majority.

To complicate matters further, The Welsh seat of Brecon and Radnorshire is currently vacant because its constituents voted to unseat the Tory MP, Chris Davies, after he was convicted for making false expense claims. A special election is scheduled for Aug. 1, with Davies standing again for the Tories.

How many Conservatives are there?

Not including Bercow, there are 312 Conservatives, plus 10 MPs from the DUP, which is allied to the ruling party. But one Tory, Eleanor Laing, is a deputy speaker, so must be discounted, giving them 321 MPs. On Monday, the Tory Dover MP Charlie Elphicke was charged with three counts of sexual assault, which he denies. He’s been suspended from the party, taking the official number down to 320. In practice, Elphicke is still likely to vote with them.

How long will Elphicke’s trial take?

Elphicke’s first court appearance is set for Sept. 6, but a full trial is likely to be several months after that. If he were to be convicted, he might be automatically excluded from Parliament, depending on the length of any jail sentence. But he’s likely to be still voting with the Conservatives as the Oct. 31 Brexit deadline approaches.

What about the opposition?

The main opposition Labour Party has 247 MPs, two of whom are deputy speakers and so don’t vote. The Scottish National Party has 35, the Liberal Democrats have 12, and other minor parties and independent MPs -- three of whom quit the Tories earlier this year -- total 25. That brings opposition votes to 317.

So where does that leave us?

The Tories and their DUP allies have 321 votes, including Elphicke. Opposition parties and independents have 317. If, as polls suggest, the Liberal Democrats win the Welsh special election next month, that’ll increase to 318. And if Elphicke is eventually forced out and replaced in a special election by another opposition MP -- Dover was Labour-held before he took it in 2010 -- then the government will be down to 320, with the opposition on 319.

To contact the reporter on this story: Alex Morales in London at amorales2@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Tim Ross at tross54@bloomberg.net, Robert Hutton, Stuart Biggs

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