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What happens to Parliament and government leading up to the general election?

When a general election is called, this triggers the end of the current Parliament and vacates every MP's seat. Parliament was originally scheduled to run until the summer recess (23 and 25 July for the House of Commons and the House of Lords respectively). However, following the announcement of the election on 22 May, Parliament was prorogued on 24 May. Prorogation brings an end to nearly all Parliamentary business including the progress of most bills and other legislation.

The dissolution (ie, the formal end) of Parliament will take place on 30 May, paving the way for a new Parliament, post-election. In the meantime, the current government remains in place until a new administration forms. However, as we explain below, in practice, the government's activities will be limited leading up to the election.

What happens to draft legislation going through Parliament?

The prorogation of Parliament last Friday (24 May) meant there was less than three days for the government to push final pieces of legislation through Parliament. During this 'wash-up' period last week, some important bills were passed into law, including the Leasehold and Freehold Reform Act, the Media Act and the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Act

However, a range of other bills, some high-profile statutes, were not passed in time. These include, the Renters (Reform) Bill, the Tobacco and Vapes Bill, which included the proposed generational ban on tobacco products, and the Football Governance Bill, which would have established a new Independent Football Regulator. There will also be pieces of proposed secondary legislation that fell.  

For the implications of this, see below on "What this means for policy going forward".

What is the pre-election period or 'purdah?

Businesses and individuals engaging with government will need to consider the pre-election period in their planning. The pre-election period of sensitivity (called 'purdah') restricts government activities. This is based on convention and applies during the weeks leading to the election.

During purdah, ministers, civil servants and those working in local or devolved administrations remain in office to exercise government functions but must be cautious not to make announcements or take any action that may impact campaigns. Other public bodies, including non-departmental public bodies (NDPBs), and special advisers that remain in post, are expected to follow the same approach and must be, and be seen to be, politically impartial. In practice this means:

  • Ministers may resolve any issues that cannot be deferred but should not generally announce new initiatives.
  • Civil servants can provide information to all campaigning parties but must maintain impartiality and avoid developing new policies or engaging in election issues. Those working in local or devolved administrations must avoid any actions that could be seen as party political.
  • NDPBs and similar public bodies should avoid party politics. They must consult their sponsor department on decisions, considering the potential impact on their work or reputation. Special advisers remaining in post until the day after polling day must also refrain from political activities. If they wish to join the election campaign or work in a party headquarters, they must first resign.

For more detail on rules for conduct during the pre-election period, including in the planning context, see our article 2024 General Election – Impact on Developers of the Pre-Election Period of Sensitivity.

What can be expected after the election?

Following the 4 July election, a new Parliament will be formed. The State Opening of Parliament will mark the start of a new Parliamentary year, with the King's Speech outlining the new government's legislative agenda for the session. The new Parliament is expected to meet on 9 July, with the State Opening and King’s Speech anticipated on 17 July.

Some Parliamentary business is likely to occur before the summer recess in late July. However, these dates may change based on post-election circumstances. A summer general election is unusual; the last one in July 1945 saw the State Opening postponed to mid-August due to matters relating to the end of the Second World War.

A new government is expected to form almost immediately after the election. However, if no party secures a clear majority, formation of a new administration may be delayed, as in the 2010 election.

What does this mean for policy going forward?

With the formation of a new Parliament, the new government can decide whether to revisit and table previous draft legislation. Some bills that did not pass during the wash up may be reintroduced unchanged, but the new government is not obliged to. It may amend or discard previous drafts in favour of new proposals. The King's Speech in July will likely be the first formal announcement of the new government's legislative agenda.

The same applies to other policies: the new government can set its own agenda and may choose not to continue the policies of the previous government. The campaign manifestos, expected in early to mid-June, will provide indications of the policy and legislative proposals each party might pursue.

Businesses should prepare for this policy crossroads. They may need to assess the likelihood of previously anticipated legislation being continued and be ready to pivot to new directions. During this period, it is crucial for businesses to engage proactively with policymakers to influence the direction of the new government's agenda.

For more analysis on the general election, please visit our election hub.

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