What Happens If A Government Can’t Be Formed By The Time Parliament Meets?

This morning I received the following question via the contact form:

What happens if a Government can’t be formed by the time Parliament meets? 

This is an interesting question. In most cases, the outgoing Prime Minister resigns the day after the General Election, and the Queen immediately sends for his successor. But this is only possible when one party has a clear mandate to form an administration.

In the event of a hung Parliament, things could get dicey. In 2010, for example, the General Election was held on May 6, but David Cameron wasn’t asked to form a government until May 11 since the Liberal Democrats were engaged in coalition talks with both Labour and the Conservatives. In the end, it was a reasonably smooth transition.

However, it might not be so easy this time around. The polls suggest that it might take a coalition of three or even four parties to form a workable Government. If that’s the case, it could take a lot longer to negotiate a coalition agreement.

The new Parliament is scheduled to assemble on May 18, but that’s not an ironclad deadline. If it’s still not clear who should form a Government by then, the Queen could postpone the meeting of Parliament by a proclamation under the Prorogation Act 1867 in order to give the parties more time to sort things out.

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5 Responses to What Happens If A Government Can’t Be Formed By The Time Parliament Meets?

  1. Matt says:

    Hopefully no one will go fishing…otherwise it might take two months! http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10405278

    • jasonloch says:

      Ha! Somehow, I can’t see any of the party leaders going fishing, though Cameron might go fox hunting and Farage might dash down to the pub! 😛

  2. I think there are several factors to bear in mind. First, the government continues in office until it resigns. So Parliament may not exist (as is the case at the moment) but there is always a government. Secondly, while there is no statutory time limit on negotiations to form a new government, or keep the present government in office, in practice governments will need to know eventually that they can at least keep money coming in from taxation. For instance, taxation changes made by resolution of the House of Commons on 23 March, after the Budget, will lapse by 5 August. The third factor is however the likely state of the parties after 7 May. On present predictions no two parties (except Labour and Conservative) will be able to constitute a majority. The third largest party is likely to be the SNP and it is difficult to see how they could form part of a coalition. Which departments would they get? They can scarcely run a department which deals only with England; equally how can a party which wants to break up the UK be given a UK-wide department? The most likely outcome looks like a minority government with some understandings as to external support.

    • jasonloch says:

      Thanks for the comment, Paul! You’re absolutely right about the continuity of government. The present Ministry is entitled to remain in office until they lose the confidence of the House of Commons, which means Cameron will have the first bite of the apple when it comes to forming a minority government or a coalition.

      I agree that any kind of coalition with the SNP is probably out of the question. Therefore, it will be interesting to see whether the Conservatives or Labour pursue a coalition with the smaller parties, or if they seek to govern as a minority government propped up by a confidence and supply agreement.

      • Laurence Cox says:

        Trident replacement would block any C&S deal between Labour and SNP in my opinion. The big issue is whether Labour or Conservatives have the most MPs after May 7. We might see a government existing on a vote-by-vote basis (like in the 1970’s). I can see SNP and Labour combining to vote down a Conservative minority government Queen’s Speech, if the Tories have most MPs, but what would happen afterwards could get very messy. I would not rule out a second election this year, which could happen if there is a No Confidence vote and no government can get a confidence vote passed within 14 days.

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