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What Happens If Boris Johnson Resigns?

Samuel Pennifold

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| Last updated 

What Happens If Boris Johnson Resigns?

Boris Johnson is once again finding himself under pressure to quit as Prime Minister after Rishi Sunak, Chancellor of the Exchequer, and Sajid Javid, Secretary of State for Health, both resigned last night.

The resignations of the two cabinet heavy hitters led to a string of more junior MPs leaving, meaning that at the time of writing 13 people have now quit Johnson’s government in the last 24 hours. 

The PM acted swiftly to replace Sunak and Javid with Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi being promoted to Chancellor and Steve Barclay returning to the cabinet after a stint as Downing Street Chief of Staff as the Secretary of State for Health. Chippenham MP Michelle Donelan has moved up within the Department of Education to become the Secretary of State for Education, having previously served as Higher and Further Education Minister. 

For now it seems that Johnson has once again stemmed the bleeding; but now with renewed vigour, his enemies are calling for him to step down as PM.

As it stands resignation is the only way Johnson could stop being PM after he survived a 1922 committee vote of no confidence, but that could change

What Happens If Boris Johnson Resigns?

First, it is crucial to know it is very unlikely that Johnson would resign as a Member of Parliament if he resigns as PM.

Secondly, as the UK requires there to be a prime minister at all times, if Johnson does offer his resignation as PM, it will only come into effect once a replacement has been found. 

Outside of that, there is very little that we can say for certain that will happen. 

Unlike in France or the USA, in the UK we do not elect our head of state - that is, the Queen - or head of government therefore, a general election is not required to decide who would replace Johnson as PM.

Rather, this task will fall to the 1922 committee, Conservative MPs and the 200,000 or so members of the Conservative Party. 

The first stage of the process will involve the 1922 committee presenting two candidates to the members of the Conservative party, there is no fixed way that these two candidates are chosen and essentially anyone who is a current Conservative MP may put themselves forward - though usually more extreme candidates are not presented.

A vote will then be held by all members of the Conservative party to decide who will be the next leader of the party and in this case Prime Minister

The vote is a simple majority and there is no union block vote like in the Labour party leadership elections. This whole process can take a period of up to serval weeks with there being no rules on a fixed timetable. 

If Johnson resigns you can expect to see cabinet heavy hitters such as; Foreign Secretary Lizz Truss, Home Secretary Priti Patel, and Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab putting themselves forward to be one of the two candidates.

In the 2019 Conservative party leadership election, there was a series of ballots to whittle down the large number of candidates who put themselves forward, in which only Conservative MPs could vote until there were only two candidates left - Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt.

There was then a vote of Conservative party members in which Johnson won with 66.4% of the vote. 

However - in extreme circumstances - the 1922 committee could choose to present only one candidate to the Conservative party, in which case this person would immediately become the leader without requiring a members’ vote.

Given the current cost-of-living crisis, the potential for further strike action this summer, and the ongoing war in Ukraine, there is a possibility the 1922 committee will attempt to find one unifying figure to avoid the usually several-week-long process of a leadership election.

Though given the current fissures, particularly over Brexit, within the Conservative party this is easier said than done.

Featured Image Credit: Alamy

Topics: Boris Johnson, Politics

Samuel Pennifold
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