What is Purdah—and would the government's Prepare for Brexit advertisements, and no-deal preparations, breach it?by Prospect Team / September 3, 2019 / Leave a comment
What is purdah—and how might it affect a 2019 general election?
An interesting scoop in the Politico Playbook e-mail this morning suggests that purdah may not apply to certain Brexit communications in the case of an October general election.
Quoting a senior Downing Street source, the e-mail says: “The PM has already made clear to senior officials that if he is forced into an election by rebels purdah rules will have no application to no-deal planning.”
The source continues, “[p]eople have forgotten that purdah is a convention, not law.”
Right. And that’s bad news?
For some Remainers, certainly. This week, Labour MP Mary Creagh wrote to Cabinet Secretary Sir Mark Sedwell demanding an end to the government’s “Get Ready For Brexit” campaign, which has been rolled out on posters and billboards.
“It’s Tory party propaganda,” Creagh tweeted, adding that in her view it “it break [sic] election purdah rules.”
After consulting lawyers, I have written to Cabinet Secretary Sir Mark Sedwill demanding that he stop the Govt’s Get Ready for Brexit campaign.
It’s Tory party propaganda, funded by the taxpayer. It break election purdah rules and the Civil service code. pic.twitter.com/aQKiuPODFn
— Mary Creagh (@MaryCreaghMP) September 2, 2019
Her letter claimed, “The Conservative party will use the Get Ready for Brexit campaign during any general election to support their party position.”
What is Sedwell’s position?
Responding to a query from Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn in mid-August, Sedwell wrote that the “Purdah rules are set out in Chapter 2 of the Cabinet Manual. Let me reassure you that I am ready to ensure their full and proper application according to the circumstances at the time.”
Those last 7 words may be the most significant.
What are the usual Purdah rules?
Lasting from the election announcement to the results, Purdah affects civil servants.
The Local Government Association put it rather neatly when it writes that the first question to ask is, “‘could a reasonable person conclude that you were spending public money to influence the outcome of the election?’”
And would the Brexit ads fall under that category?
It really depends who’s asking. On the one hand, the government will possibly argue that they are essentially non-partisan, and intended only to assist citizens in preparing for Brexit (of any flavour).
The web link the advertisements point towards contains information about what business and individuals of different nationalities and countries of residence should do to begin preparing.
Johnson and Co will doubtless claim this is not a party political matter.
They may also argue that making…