Election Q&A: What happens if there’s a hung Parliament?

Ballot box

Ballot box - Credit: Getty Images

Polls suggest a hung Parliament is the likely outcome of this election. Here’s what could happen in the coming days if none of the parties reach the magic 326 seats needed for a majority.

What is a hung Parliament?

With 650 seats in the House of Commons, the support of 326 MPs is needed to vote new laws through. When a general election results in no single party reaching an overall majority, this is known as a hung Parliament.

What happens in this situation?

The government in power before the election gets the first chance at creating a government. In 2010 the Labour government remained until the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats reached an agreement. If the incumbent government is unable to command a majority, and the prime minister is expected to resign, the leader of the largest opposition party may be invited to form a government and may do so either as a minority or in coalition with other parties. The convention does not stop talks among other parties taking place – something very likely to happen as soon as the result becomes clear.

Is there a time limit?

In 2010 it took five days to put the coalition together, but there is no time limit. The new Parliament meets on May 18, so David Cameron has until this date to put together a deal to keep himself in power or resign, according to civil service guidelines. The Queen’s Speech is set for Wednesday, May 27.