Most analysts agree that we’re in an unprecedented situation, and with parliament’s summer recess just around the corner, many are unsure about how quickly the government can get back up and running.
We asked Professor Michael Keating, a constitutional expert, what could happen next – and whether the UK has ever faced a situation like this before.
Is there any precedent in UK history for what we’ve seen in the last few days?
“No. Normally when the prime minister loses the confidence of their party they step down pretty quickly, as we saw with Theresa May.
“This is because we have a parliamentary system in which the prime minister is the leader of the majority party in parliament.
“Constitutionally, he’s chosen by parliament, not the British people. We don’t have a presidential system,” Keating said.
He added that the only example that comes close to the way Boris Johnson has behaved is when Neville Chamberlain was forced out of his post in 1940 by MPs both from his own party and the opposition.
What will happen to Boris Johnson now?
Boris Johnson will have to be replaced by a new prime minister at some point, but the question of when that will happen is open. During his resignation speech, Johnson said the timeframe would be confirmed next week.
The new prime minister will be selected via a leadership election within the Conservative party, a process that can take several months.
“Back in the old days when prime ministers resigned you could have a new prime minister very very quickly. But nowadays parties go to their members for selection, so that takes months,” Keating said.
Boris Johnson said in his speech that he plans to remain in place until the autumn, but he faces pressure from the opposition and members of his own party to leave immediately.
Who will replace Boris Johnson if he leaves now- and who is the deputy prime minister?
There is no automatic process in the UK constitution for taking over from a prime minister who steps down from the post, Keating says.
This is in spite of there being a deputy prime minister post in the cabinet, currently held by Dominic Raab.
“[The process] is certainly not automatic. The deputy prime minister position isn’t constitutionally recognised,” Keating said.
This means that Raab will not automatically take over as interim prime minister if Boris Johnson leaves immediately.
Instead it would have to be “someone with a certain level of seniority who was not going to run in the leadership election,” Keating said.
This would likely be decided quickly by “senior ministers”, with approval from the Queen, without a vote, Keating said.
He added that it was not clear who would be chosen at present, though the 1922 Committee has come out in favour of Raab taking over the post.
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