What happens when the Prime Minster resigns? Boris Johnson steps down - selection process, who will take over

Johnson will continue to serve as PM until a replacement is chosen, which is predicted to happen by October

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After ministers and MPs made it apparent that Boris Johnson’s position was untenable, he is stepping down as Tory leader.

According to a source at No 10, Johnson informed Sir Graham Brady, the head of the Conservative 1922 Committee, of his choice by phone.

“The Prime Minister has spoken to Graham Brady and agreed to stand down in time for a new leader to be in place by the conference in October,” a No 10 source said.

Later today, Johnson will formally announce his decision to the nation.

But what happens next? Who will lead the country in Johnson’s wake, and what is the process of selecting them?

Here is everything you need to know.

What happens now?

The Prime Minister has lost support from his ministers and MPs, which led to his resignation.

Since Tuesday (5 July) night, when Rishi Sunak and Sajid Javid's resignations from the Cabinet started the mass exodus, more than 50 MPs have left their positions in the government or their parties.

Despite warnings from his Cabinet colleagues that this was not sustainable, the Prime Minister had chosen to ignore his detractors and continue in power.

Johnson will continue to serve as Prime Minister until a replacement is chosen, which is predicted to happen by the Conservative Party conference in October.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street for PMQ’s on 6 July (Photo: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street for PMQ’s on 6 July (Photo: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street for PMQ’s on 6 July (Photo: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

The timetable for the Tory leadership contest will be agreed between the 1922 Committee, which runs the parliamentary proceedings to whittle candidates down to two, and Conservative headquarters.

During the summer break, Johnson will continue to serve as caretaker prime minister while the Conservative Party holds the leadership election.

By September, the Tories and the nation should most likely have a new leader.

How will the new leader be chosen?

Members of the Conservative Party and Conservative MPs both have significant influence in choosing the new leader.

Through a vote process, Tory MPs will narrow the field of candidates down to just two, after which party members will choose which of the two they favour.

A leader who resigns is typically not qualified to run in any upcoming leadership elections, according to the regulations, so it is improbably that Johnson would stand to be leader again.

Could he be out sooner than the autumn?

The Prime Minister's detractors argue that he shouldn't be allowed to hold onto his position until the autumn

George Freeman, the former science minister who announced his resignation on Thursday (7 July) morning, said Johnson should apologise to the Queen and suggest she appoint a caretaker prime minister.

He tweeted: “Boris Johnson needs to hand in the seals of office, apologise to Her Majesty and advise her to call for a caretaker prime minister.

“To take over today so that ministers can get back to work and we can choose a new Conservative leader to try and repair the damage and rebuild trust.”

If this occurs, Johnson will have held office for a shorter period of time than his predecessor Theresa May did.

Johnson is the third Conservative Prime Minister to be overthrown by party infighting in the last six years.

A disagreement over Europe caused David Cameron to lose his bet on Brexit and quit, while Theresa May was unable to bring her feuding MPs together over strategies for carrying out the referendum's results.

Could there be a general election?

There is some suggestion that Johnson’s successor will be under pressure to call an early election to get their own mandate.

The UK’s next general election is currently scheduled for Thursday 2 May 2024.

It will happen on that date if the Conservative party completes its full term after the 2019 election, which is five years according to the Fixed Term Parliaments Act.

However, the date of the election could change a snap poll is called before then.

That is exactly what happened in 2019, when Johnson gambled by calling a snap general election in an effort to increase his parliamentary majority and end months of deadlock over Brexit.

Who is the deputy prime minister?

The current deputy prime minister is Dominic Raab, who was given the role in September 2021.

Raab is the first person to be named deputy PM since Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg, who served as the junior coalition partner along with David Cameron’s Conservatives between 2010 and 2015.

There is no requirement for the prime minister to appoint a deputy and many have chosen not to, including David Cameron during his second term and Theresa May.

Although the official deputy prime minister title is not always used, there is generally understood to be a ‘de-facto deputy’, sometimes given the title of first secretary of state.

The primary duties of the deputy prime minister are to represent the government at PMQs and chair cabinet meetings, if the prime minister is absent.

There is no assurance of succession for the deputy prime minister.