The British Government haven’t exactly proved the beacon of clear and transparent leadership that most would expect from an institution with such a long record of democracy – and through the coronavirus crisis it certainly seems as though politics has swung from drama to drama. In the wake of yet another scandal involving the Prime Minister hosting a party during a national lockdown and breaking his own rules, two thirds of the British public are said to think Boris Johnson should resign. But how likely is he to leave and what happens if he does? Let’s investigate…
Can a Prime Minister resign and remain an MP?
Any Minister of Government is able to resign from their position and remain an MP; focusing their time instead on their role of constituent representation rather than their specific Ministerial post.
In the case of most Prime Ministers, a scandal such as the repeated social events held in breach of Covid-19 emergency lockdown rules would likely result in a resignation; but Boris Johnson remains steadfast in his stance. Should he choose to resign, a leadership contest will be triggered within the Conservative party to replace him as Prime Minister – with each person running in the contest campaigning for themselves and backed by other MPs.
Despite common misconception, no election is held. As the government itself has already been elected, only the roles of those within shift.
Can a Prime Minister be sacked?
If a Prime Minister refuses to resign, they can be pushed out – but the process isn’t easy. If 15% of the Conservative MPs who currently sit in Parliament write to the Chairman of the relevant committee, a vote of ‘no confidence’ in the leader is triggered. At present there are 360 MPs with the Conservative whip, so 54 of them would have to send a letter to the committee in order for this vote to happen. The chairman of the committee keeps a secret tally of the letters received and if it tips over the 15% threshold, will make a formal announcement of the vote.
A no confidence vote is a secret ballot of all relevant MPs (in this case, all Conservative MPs). If it succeeds and over 50% of those balloted agree they have no confidence in the leader, the Prime Minister must resign out of procedure and a leadership contest will be held to replace them. This can, of course, go either way – Theresa May had such a vote triggered in 2018 but it failed to reach the majority and so she stayed in post. If a Prime Minister wins a no confidence vote, such an opposition can not be raised against them for a calendar year.
Who works as PM in the interim as a new one is chosen?
During a leadership contest for Prime Minister, there are two options for the role in the interim period.
The first is that Deputy Prime Minister (currently Dominic Raab) will take over the day-to-day duties, but the second is that the existing PM stays in post as a ‘caretaker’ for the duration. Although it’s impossible to predict what would happen, political commentators suggest that Boris Johnson would do the latter and stay until he was formally replaced.
Once the party members have elected their new leader, the outgoing Prime Minister will formally hand in his resignation to the Queen and ‘advise’ that she appoints the new leader as PM – which she will, as her role is largely ceremonial. Indeed, this is how Boris became Prime Minister; running in a leadership contest when Theresa May resigned.
We wait and see. While headlines certainly suggest that Boris is likely to leave soon, the reality could be far removed from this and no one other than Boris and his close colleagues know for sure what will happen. We all have our own thoughts on the situation but from here all we can do is express our opinions to our local representatives – so write to your local MP and have your voice heard.
The featured image on this blog was taken by Jordhan Madec, for Unsplash.