At some point between 3pm and 5pm on Thursday afternoon, the 55th parliament of the United Kingdom will adjourn for the last time.
Both chambers will be prorogued until Monday, when they will be formally dissolved. Typically, the Palace of Westminster can’t just shut up shop in one go. These things have to follow centuries of precedent, which means that even though MPs will meet for the last time on Thursday, they won’t cease to be MPs until four days later.
Within the proclamation of dissolution will be confirmation of the date on which parliament will next assemble. In 2010 this fell 12 days after the election, and if a similar calculation is used this time, MPs will return to Westminster on Tuesday 19 May. The dissolution proclamation should also confirm the date of the State Opening, which will probably be 26 May: one day after the bank holiday.
With dissolution comes the beginning of “purdah”: the period of time when special rules restrict the activity of civil servants and the business of government in the run-up to polling day.
All MPs lose the status of MP, but ministers keep their ministerial titles, by virtue of being appointed by the Queen rather than elected by us. Hence David Cameron will be prime minister, but not an MP. All facilities provided by the House of Commons to MPs will be no longer available to them from 5pm on Monday, although they’ll have a couple more days to clear their offices. I imagine some of the retiring members will have been doing this for some time.
Once parliament is dissolved it no longer exists, so it cannot be recalled in times of emergency or crisis. In the event of a terrorist attack, for example, there would be no elected body to hold the caretaker government to account.
Similarly there will be no parliament in existence to honour the various VE Day commemorations taking place on the three days after the election, although all existing ministers will retain their titles until the next government is formed. Philip Hammond, for instance, will still be foreign secretary when he attends the ceremony at the Cenotaph on the morning after polling day. Even if the Conservatives lose the election outright, I doubt any change of government will take place formally before Friday afternoon at the earliest.
But before all of that there is still some business for parliament to take care of. The “wash-up”, as it’s traditionally called, looks like being quite an ordered affair and not the usual scramble to get legislation on to the statute book before time runs out. There’s even room for a “goodbye” session on Thursday morning, when around 30 retiring MPs will get a chance to say a few parting words.
And then we’re done, and 1,772 days since it first met, the 55th parliament will go on its way.