Whitehall officials have been gaming a state of emergency and even the introduction of martial law in the event of disorder after a no-deal Brexit

The Times

What are the implications of martial law being declared in the UK? The Wikipedia page has plenty of examples of other nations (including places which were at the time of the examples part of the UK), but not the UK as it currently exists.

In particular, what effect would UK martial law have on:

  • UK citizens living in the UK
  • UK citizens living in the EU
  • Non-UK citizens living in the UK
  • NI and Scottish independence campaigns
  • UK international trade links
  • The functioning of Westminster, the National Assembly for Wales, the Northern Ireland Assembly (if it wasn't already collapsed), and the Scottish Parliament
  • The article you quote is behind a paywall. Do you have other, open-access sources?
    – o.m.
    Jan 27, 2019 at 11:04
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    Most of the 'alternate' sources I've found seem to be quoting the reporting in The Times. I was mainly quoting the first paragraph of the article to set out the reasons for me asking (rather than for any specific focus on the details claimed in these stories) as I am very much aware that "government will declare martial law" is ordinarily the sort of thing only a lunatic would say. Here is an alternative link: eveningexpress.co.uk/news/uk/…
    – BenRW
    Jan 27, 2019 at 13:10
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    I'm not sure this question isn't too broad to answer in its current form. "Martial law" as used in a newspaper headline could mean anything from unarmed troops acting as additional warm bodies for the civilian police force, to curfews and armed military patrols, to kangaroo courts and summary execution for looters.
    – origimbo
    Jan 27, 2019 at 19:58
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    @origimbo makes a good point. Martial law gives the government some powers, but that does not mean that they have to use all of them (and guessing what would they good in response to an hypothetical crisis would be an hipothetical question and as such off-topic). A better question would be which powers are granted to the government in the case of martial law.
    – SJuan76
    Jan 27, 2019 at 20:16
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    Although the starting point for discussion would be the Civil Contingencies Act 2004 en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Civil_Contingencies_Act_2004
    – origimbo
    Jan 28, 2019 at 0:30

1 Answer 1


The Civil Contingencies Act gives the government wide-ranging powers to modify or suspend almost any primary legislation. When the media talk about "Martial Law" what they are most often referring to is the power of the government to declare an emergency, and act without the consent of Parliament for up to 30 days.

The Human Rights Act would remain in force so the protections describe therein would remain. But almost anything else could, in theory at least, be changed.

For an analogy of how things could work out, you could look to the foot-and-mouth outbreak in 2001. The government suspended the right-of-way along most footpaths and "closed" the countryside. Farmers were not allowed to move livestock around, and if foot-and-mouth were discovered, their herd could be appropriated and destroyed. These restrictions were created without primary legislation. Instead, these were temporary actions by the executive, acting under the Royal Prerogative.

In the case of the UK leaving the EU without a deal, emergency action could include the use of the military to control and redirect lorries that would be carrying goods across the channel. Using the military to aid the border force in managing immigration. Using the military for maintaining order.

It is not possible to describe in detail what the exact implication of emergency powers would be on various groups. As it is unknown what exactly would happen, and what the response would be.

It is worth noting that emergency powers can only be introduced for a maximum of 30 days. After that, the changes must either be reversed, or approved by Parliament. And as noted above, the human rights act remains in force, and the judiciary would still function.

Similarly, the effect on the Nationalist movements in Scotland and the North of Ireland is unknown.

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