The UK was scheduled to hold a general election on 7 May 2020 (until the 2017 election was called). If that election were to be scheduled for that date, Parliament would have been dissolved at the end of March.

On 19 March, before the UK enacted its nationwide lockdown, Coventry Council held a by-election for one of their council seats. While turnouts for council by-elections is not usually very high, the turnout at this by-election was only 9% (Coventry Council). It follows that it would be very difficult to see how a general election could be held during this lockdown, especially while maintaining physical distancing.

In the event of an emergency, Parliament would normally be able to change the date of a general election by amending the Fixed Term Parliaments Act 2011. But if Parliament has been dissolved, it cannot change the date of the election. So what options, if any, would be open to the government to delay the election? Could the previously-dissolved Parliament be subsequently recalled? Could one of Her Majesty's reserve powers be used to delay the election? Or would the election have to carry on regardless?

1 Answer 1


The Civil Contingencies Act 2004 provides, in:

an event or situation which threatens serious damage to human welfare in a place in the United Kingdom,

in particular,

  • (a) loss of human life,
  • (b) human illness or injury,
  • [...]
  • (h) disruption of services relating to health

powers for Her Majesty via an Order in Council, or a senior Minister of the Crown, to make emergency regulations;

Emergency regulations may make provision of any kind that could be made by Act of Parliament or by the exercise of the Royal Prerogative.

These regulations have remarkable scope, and may be used provided that the person making the provision is satisfied that it is appropriate for a range of reasons, one of which is "protecting human life, health, or safety". The only Act which can't be amended is the Human Rights Act.

Note that on the dissolution of Parliament, although all MPs are no longer considered such, Ministers still hold their positions until the election, and therefore could still exercise their powers given by this Act.

It seems, therefore, that, given a suitable emergency as the COVID-19 pandemic clearly is, the Government would be able to delay the election by amending the FTPA under the provisions of the Civil Contingencies Act.

  • 1
    It is often worth noting that "Her Majesty via an Order in Council" generally means "The Prime Minister" (in the peculiar code language of the UK constitution)
    – James K
    Apr 12, 2020 at 15:45
  • 1
    @JamesK In practice that is mostly if not always true that the Prime Minister has to agree to the OiC. But a) Order in Council can be made on recommendation of any member of the Cabinet; b) many laws including this one makes deliberate distinction between Ministers and the Privy Council (in effect, the Cabinet).
    – xngtng
    Apr 13, 2020 at 0:29
  • (cont.) because 1) the OiC has to be carried formally in a Cabinet meeting and represents a collective decision under collective responsibility; siginificant Cabinet disagreements can force reconsideration of OiC (even if PM can just fire disagreeing members, they still have to do that rather publicly) 2) the Queen still acts as a final sanity check, however (rightfully) never/underused. Sorry to be a bit pedantic.
    – xngtng
    Apr 13, 2020 at 0:30
  • I entirely agree. 谢谢. I was just noting that "Her Majesty via an OiC" does not mean the private whim of Betty Windsor, in the hope of fending off future questions along the lines of "Can the Queen...?"
    – James K
    Apr 13, 2020 at 7:05

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