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Calling a general election: what happens next?

  • Published: Tuesday, 6 April 2010

The Prime Minister has today announced the date of the general election and Parliament will close down over the next few days. Deadlines for the nomination of candidates and voting have been published.

General election day: Thursday 6 May 2010

There is nothing in law that says that a parliamentary election has to be held on a Thursday; they can be held on any weekday. However, every general election since 1935 has been held on a Thursday.

Ending a Parliament ahead of an election

Election glossary

The general election uses all sorts of jargon and specialist words. Find out what it all means

In the United Kingdom there is not a fixed-term Parliament and there is no minimum length of a Parliament. The maximum life, or 'term', of a Parliament is five years. It automatically comes to an end, or is 'dissolved', five years from the date on which it first met after the previous general election. Often the Prime Minister decides to call the general election before the five years limit.

This morning the Prime Minister visited HM The Queen at Buckingham Palace to ask her to dissolve Parliament in preparation for the 6 May general election.

The 'wash-up'

The ‘wash-up’ period refers to the last few days of a Parliament, after the election has been announced but before dissolution. All the unfinished business of the Parliamentary session must be dealt with swiftly. So the government may seek the co-operation of the opposition in passing legislation that is still in progress. Some Bills might be lost completely, others might be progressed quickly but in a much-shortened form.


When a parliamentary session comes to an end, the House is 'prorogued' until the next session begins. Prorogation is the formal end to the Parliamentary year. Following prorogation, all Motions (this includes Parliamentary questions which have not been answered) fall. Any Bill which has not obtained royal assent by the end of the session in which it was introduced usually 'dies', and has to be reintroduced in the next session.

Prorogation usually takes the form of an announcement read on behalf of the Queen, or a 'royal proclamation'. 

Dissolution of Parliament

Dissolution is the official term for the end of a Parliament. A Parliament is dissolved by royal proclamation followed by a general election. 

Royal proclamation

The monarch does not normally visit Westminster to dissolve a Parliament; instead she sends a messenger to read a royal proclamation. This is read out first in the House of Lords and then in the House of Commons. It sets out the major laws passed during the session and it also summons a new Parliament to meet at a future point.

Election writs

The head of the Crown Office (the Clerk of the Crown in Chancery) then issues the election writs. These writs are the official notices to Acting Returning Officers that an election is to be held in their constituency.

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