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Dissolution is the official term for the end of a Parliament before a general election. When Parliament is dissolved every seat in the House of Commons becomes vacant.

Under section 2 of the Dissolution and Calling of Parliament Act 2022, Parliament is dissolved by His Majesty, using prerogative powers. By convention, these powers are exercised following a request from the Prime Minister.

Polling day for a general election takes place 25 working days after Parliament has been dissolved.

Between 2011 and 2022, the date of each general election was determined by statute, rather than by the exercise of prerogative powers. Under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 the default rule was that a general election would be held on the first Thursday in May in the fifth year after the previous general election. Parliament was automatically dissolved, under those arrangements, 25 working days before polling day.

The 2011 Act made provision for the House of Commons to trigger an early general election, either following a vote of no confidence in the Government or after the House of Commons voted for an early general election. An early election could also take place under a bespoke statute, as was the case in 2019.

The Dissolution and Calling of Parliament Act 2022 repealed the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011. It purported to restore the arrangements that were in place before 2011. Therefore as a matter of law, the King has the legal power to dissolve one Parliament and call a new one.

The 2022 Act sets the maximum length of a Parliament at five years, running from the day it first meets. Section 4 provides that:

If it has not been dissolved earlier, a Parliament dissolves at the beginning of the day that is the fifth anniversary of the day on which it first met.

Under this provision, the current Parliament would dissolve on 17 December 2024, unless dissolved earlier.

There are no statutory restrictions on when the Prime Minister can request a dissolution. However, during the passage of the Dissolution and Calling of Parliament Act 2022 the Government said that “there remains a role for the sovereign in exceptional circumstances to refuse a Dissolution request”, although it also said there was “an abiding need to avoid the sovereign being drawn into politics”, including arguments over whether a request for a dissolution was appropriate.

Latest possible general election

If the current Parliament is not dissolved early, it would dissolve automatically on 17 December 2024; and the general election would follow on Tuesday 28 January 2025.

The 25-day election timetable is automatically triggered by dissolution but Saturdays, Sundays, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Boxing Day, New Year’s Day and the Scottish Bank Holiday on 2 January are not counted in calculating the 25 days.

The election timetable is set in Schedule 1 of the Representation of the People Act 1983.

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