UK General Election Announced for Thursday 4 July

Rishi Sunak braves the Downing Street rain to announce the date of the next general election to the public.
Rishi Sunak braves the Downing Street rain to announce the date of the next general election to the public. (Source: The Institute for Government)


Source: The Institute for Government

The UK prime minister has called an election for Thursday 4 July 2024.

On 22 May 2024, Rishi Sunak called a general election to be held on 4 July. To do this the prime minister will request permission from the King to dissolve parliament. This will be done on 30 May with the vote taking place 25 working days later. This process was carried out in accordance with the Dissolution and Calling of Parliament Act, which in 2022 replaced the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011.

The prime minister had the flexibility to call the general election at a time of his choosing, up until 17 December 2024 – which is five years after parliament first met after the last general election.




What happens in parliament once the election is called? 

Parliament continues to sit until it is either dissolved or prorogued (and then dissolved) – whichever comes first. This period is known as ‘wash-up’.

At this election, parliament will continue to sit until it is dissolved on 30 May, meaning wash-up will last for 5 days. 

Wash-up is the opportunity for parliament to get through any unfinished business before dissolution. There is usually a rush to rapidly pass legislation through parliament to get it onto the statute book, normally requiring cooperation between parties to agree which bills they will support through this expedited legislative process. Any parliamentary business not completed by the end of ‘wash-up’ will not enter into law and cannot be continued into the next parliament.  

The length of wash-up is decided by the prime minister and can vary. The longest wash up period since 1992 was in 2017, when parliament sat for a further seven days after the election was called.



What happens once parliament is dissolved? 

Dissolving parliament is a royal prerogative, exercised on the advice of the prime minister. At this point, all business in the House of Commons comes to an end and every seat in the House of Commons becomes vacant, meaning there are no longer any MPs. Government ministers, however, remain in post until a new government is formed after the election. Members of the House of Lords retain their positions but all business in the House ends.

Polling day takes place 25 working days after parliament is dissolved. Weekends, Christmas Eve and bank holidays (anywhere in the UK) do not count as working days. This means that at this election, there are a total of 35 days between dissolution and polling day on Thursday 4 July. 

Polling day has been on a Thursday since 1935, but this – unlike for Scottish Parliament elections - has no basis in law and the prime minister could hold the election on any day of his or her choosing.

What happens in government once the election is called?

Government activity is restricted during the campaign, in what is known as the ‘pre-election period’ (previously known as purdah). This is to ensure public money is not used to support the campaign of the party in power, and to maintain the impartiality of the civil service. Often, these restrictions come into force once parliament has been dissolved, but the pre-election period can begin before this (as in 2017).

When are manifestos launched and TV debates held?

There is no set date for manifestos to be launched – it is decided by the parties. Since 1997, Labour and Conservative manifestos have been launched between 18 and 29 days before the election, typically within a few days of each other. That means they are likely to be launched between 5 and 16 June.


manifesto timing launches

Televised debates with party leaders, or other politicians, are a relatively new feature of UK election campaigns. Though the possibility of holding televised debates has been discussed since the 1960s, it was only in 2010 that an agreement was reached and the first TV debates took place.

TV election debates have taken place in some form at every general election since then. Their format and timing are negotiated between political parties and broadcasters. They have varied from a head-to-head between the two main party leaders to seven-way debates featuring a wider range of parties. There is, however, no obligation on parties to take part. In 2017, for example, Theresa May ruled out taking part in any television debates.

What happens on polling day?

Voting can be done in person at polling stations on 4 July, or before this by post. Polling stations open at 7am and close at 10pm. For people voting in person photographic ID will, for the first time in a general election, be required.1  (Photographic ID was required for local elections in 2023 and 2024.) 

Once voting closes at 10pm, an exit poll is announced. This is a survey of in-person voters taken at a sample of around 150 constituencies in England, Scotland and Wales. Exit polls have taken place in various forms since 1974, and have correctly predicted the largest party on every occasion.