Politics

Boris Johnson has resigned. Now what?

Boris Johnson has finally resigned - so what happens next? We asked an expert who could take over - and what it means for the UK.

Boris Johnson at a Cabinet meeting

Boris Johnson could leave immediately - or hang on as "caretaker" prime minister until the autumn. (Image: Number 10 Downing Street/Flickr)

After a whirlwind 24 hours of non-stop ministerial resignations and drama, Boris Johnson has finally agreed to step down as prime minister. 

Johnson delivered his resignation speech on Thursday afternoon, and the question now on everyone’s lips is: what happens next?

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. 

Article continues below

Current vacancies...

Search jobs

Will Boris Johnson stay on as prime minister?

Johnson has said he will remain in place until a new prime minister has been chosen. He has already put together a new Cabinet.

But Keating said it could be difficult for Johnson to carry on in his post with any credibility.

“It’s very difficult to see how he could carry on now that so many cabinet ministers have resigned,” Keating said.

“He’s facing hostility not only from those who resigned but even some of the ones who have stayed.

“I would find that very difficult, but I wouldn’t put it past him to try.”

Labour leader Keir Starmer has called for the PM to leave immmediately.

“He needs to go, he can’t cling on,” Starmer said.

“His own party has decided it’s time – so they can’t inflict him on the country for the next few months.”

Who is in the running to be the next prime minister?

A number of Conservative MPs have expressed an interest in running, including former Cabinet ministers Jeremy Hunt and Sajid Javid.

We’ve put together a full list of the potential candidates here.

When is the next general election?

Unless an earlier election is called by whoever takes over as prime minister, the next general election is due in January 2025. 

Whoever takes over from Boris Johnson could call an early election if they wish, but this is not guaranteed. Gordon Brown, for example, didn’t do this after he took over from Tony Blair in 2007.

Support the Big Issue

For over 30 years, the Big Issue has been committed to ending poverty in the UK. In 2024, our work is needed more than ever. Find out how you can support the Big Issue today.
Vendor martin Hawes

Recommended for you

View all
Dignified quality of life or gaslighting? Tories' 'triple lock plus' pension pledge divides voters
pensioner
General election 2024

Dignified quality of life or gaslighting? Tories' 'triple lock plus' pension pledge divides voters

National service for Gen Z, tax breaks for boomers: Why 'desperate' Tories are chasing older voters
General Election 2024

National service for Gen Z, tax breaks for boomers: Why 'desperate' Tories are chasing older voters

'Get a grip' and act on reality, not prejudice, MP Liam Fox tells his Tory colleagues
Liam Fox
Politics

'Get a grip' and act on reality, not prejudice, MP Liam Fox tells his Tory colleagues

Why the general election could and should be fought on the frontier of poverty
Keir Starmer and Angela Rayner on the first day of the general election campaign
General election 2024

Why the general election could and should be fought on the frontier of poverty

Most Popular

Read All
Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits
Renters: A mortgage lender's window advertising buy-to-let products
1.

Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal
Pound coins on a piece of paper with disability living allowancve
2.

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over
next dwp cost of living payment 2023
3.

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know
4.

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know