The pre-election period is a long established convention in the UK. All Governments, whether central, devolved or local, impose a self-denying ordinance on making political announcements, taking major decisions or making any important appointments which might have a political impact on or distract from the campaign. This of course works both ways, and the current government has used this convention as a reason to refuse to publish a security report by a Westminster Committee on the basis it could not be cleared in time and could not be issued during the pre-election period.
One of the most important aspects of the pre-election period is that civil servants and officials of public bodies must remain politically neutral, particularly at the more senior levels. Envelope filling by lower graded civil servants may be appropriate but even they need to be careful about any unfortunate too partisan tweet! There is also an obligation on officials to ensure that no public resources are used for party political purposes. Official cars cannot take ministers to party rallies. Civil servants cannot accompany Ministers to party events. While Ministers can continue to take decisions necessary to keep day to day government working, catching a Minister when they are not out on the hustings during this period to take a decision is generally a challenge in itself.
We have evidence already about how seriously this is taken. Yesterday, the Head of the Civil Service, Sir Mark Sedwill, refused to allow a paper to be published costing the Labour party's proposals on the basis this was making use of civil service treasury resources and the Tory party had decided no similar costing of their proposals would be prepared. The level playing field must be maintained and civil servants kept out of the picture. This happened despite leaving the Chancellor apparently being "furious" since he had already advised the Cabinet that the report would be published.
Special Advisers will now also be missing from the corridors of government. While they are on civil service contracts with a special role as political advisors to their Ministers, they must resign on dissolution and will usually be found out on the hustings with their Ministers, now paid by the party not the public. They will usually have returned to their political roots.
While election purdah applies directly in this election to the operation of Westminster and Whitehall, the administrations in Holyrood, Cardiff and Belfast (if they were sitting) would also apply the same constraints to their operations as well. During the recent referendums in the last decade in Scotland, Wales and the UK, similar self-denying ordinances have been applied and appropriate guidance issued to civil servants and to those working in public sector bodies.
Whether or not this is going to be a "Brexit Election" remains to be seen. It is certainly going to have a Brexit focus and that necessarily means almost everything is going to be up for discussion. Does this mean a quiet few weeks for civil servants? Far from it. They will be preparing briefing for whoever wins this election. They will be thinking about what commitments the various parties are making in their Manifestos so that they can be delivered efficiently on behalf of whoever comes through the black door at Number 10. And maybe, just maybe, they will give themselves time for a cup of tea or coffee after all they pressure they have all been under for the last year. At least they do not need to go out in the cold campaigning so for some an election may be welcome.