Pre-election purdah period to begin on Saturday

Pre-election period to commence after MPs back poll

By Richard Johnstone

20 Apr 2017

The pre-election purdah period will begin on Saturday, placing restrictions on the decisions the government can take ahead of the election on 8 June.

Following the vote in the House of Commons to trigger a general election under the Fixed Term Parliament Act, which needed a two-thirds majority and passed by 522 votes to 13, the pre-election period has been confirmed.

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A statement by the Cabinet Office said the guidance applying to the pre-election period (often referred to as purdah) would begin at 0001 on Saturday 22 April.

Guidance for the civil service will be published on this afternoon, the Cabinet Office told CSW, as well as a written ministerial statement. The pre-election period for the local elections which began on April 13 remains in place.

In an article written ahead of the 2015 general election, Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood set out what the period meant for the civil service.

“The UK government retains the responsibility to govern and ministers remain in charge of their departments. Civil servants will keep delivering government business, and if any crisis needed urgent action then we would tackle it in the normal way.

“But from now until [election day], the key principle to keep in mind is that we should do everything possible to avoid any activity that could call our political impartiality into question and to ensure that public resources are not used for party-political purposes.”

This means that ministers, who remain in place, will observe discretion in initiating any new action of a continuing or long-term character, according to guidance, while decisions on matters of policy on which a new government might be expected to want the opportunity to take a different stance should be postponed where this is not detrimental to the national interest or wasteful of public money.

Heywood’s article highlighted that, if the election produces a clear majority, then the civil service would quickly move back into business as usual. “But if it is not immediately clear who will seek to form a government that can command the confidence of the newly-elected House of Commons, and there are political discussions in the days following the election as in 2010, then there may be some continuing restrictions around how we operate.

“Everything I have learned from previous general elections tells me that I can rely on civil servants to conduct themselves over the coming weeks with the professionalism and high standards of propriety that we have always prided ourselves on – and to be fully prepared so that the next administration can hit the ground running,” he said.

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