Boris Johnson’s successor is set to be announced on September 5. So what happens until then?

Conservative politicians have announced that Britain’s new prime minister will be revealed on September 5, with the first votes coming this week to begin eliminating candidates in a crowded contest to replace Boris Johnson.

Mr Johnson still remains in Britain’s top job as “caretaker prime minister” despite quitting as leader of the Conservative Party last Thursday. 

There’s a bit of work to be done before his successor will be revealed. So what will UK leadership look like in the interim? 

What is a caretaker prime minister? 

A Conservative leadership contest was always likely to take weeks, so somebody needed to take charge until a successor was elected.

Mr Johnson’s plan to continue in his role until then follows British convention and the process set by his predecessors.

There is no constitutional precedent for a different interim prime minister to be installed and in the past, prime ministers choosing to step down have usually stayed in office until a successor was found.

Mr Johnson told cabinet ministers on Thursday that the government wouldn’t make major changes of direction while his party elected a new leader.

Boris Johnson gestures to journalists and photographers as he leaves 10 Downing Street
Boris Johnson is expected to remain as caretaker prime minister until September 5.(AP: Frank Augstein)

Why has Mr Johnson’s decision to remain as caretaker caused controversy?

The 58-year-old’s plans to stay on as caretaker prime minister defied calls from across the political spectrum — including within his own party — to go immediately.

Conservative Party members, including former prime minister John Major, questioned whether Mr Johnson should stay in office for weeks given the chaos of the past few months and the instability caused by a mass walkout.

Mr Major is among those who have called on the 1922 Committee, made up of Tory backbenchers, to change the rules and remove Mr Johnson as caretaker.

He released a letter saying it would be “unwise” and “unsustainable” for Mr Johnson to remain in the top job for months.

George Freeman, who resigned as science minister on Wednesday, said it was difficult to see how Mr Johnson would be able to “put together a government that next week will escape from the insecurity and chaos we’ve seen this week”.

And perhaps unsurprisingly, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer also came out saying Mr Johnson “needs to go completely — not cling on for a few months”.

He last week threatened to call a vote of no confidence in Mr Johnson’s government if the prime minister did not step down immediately.


What is a vote of no confidence and could Mr Johnson go any sooner? 

A vote of no confidence is a vote in which MPs from all parties decide whether they want the government to continue.

It has the power to trigger a general election and could see a new prime minister appointed.

If the leader of the opposition introduces the motion, convention means the government will allow for a debate, but it has not happened yet.

And it would require a lot of Conservative MPs to vote against their own government for the motion to be successful.

Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 Committee, reiterated that it was a simple constitutional principle in the UK that a prime minister remained prime minister until a successor was selected.

A portrait photo of Chairman of the 1922 Committee Graham Brady on a road.
Chairman of the 1922 Committee Graham Brady says it is principle and tradition that Boris Johnson remains in power until his successor is chosen. (Reuters: Henry Nicholls)

“So that is not my responsibility. We are dealing with our responsibilities as quickly as we reasonably can,” he told reporters on Monday.

The 1922 Committee’s responsibilities include governing party rules and setting a timetable for the leadership contest.

Hold up, what’s the 1922 Committee? 

The parliamentary committee, formally known as the Conservative Private Members’ Committee and sometimes referred to as the “men in grey suits”, represents the rank-and-file party members who do not hold any government or opposition portfolios.

They are an influential group who have the power to organise leadership challenges to their own prime minister and also play an important role in selecting the next party leader.

They also conduct weekly meetings when parliament is in session and discuss matters pertaining to the party.

Despite its name, the 1922 Committee was actually set up in April 1923 following an initiative by new Conservative MPs elected at the 1922 general election to facilitate cooperation within the party.

The rules for a new leadership contest are being decided by the 1922 Committee.

So what has the 1922 Committee decided? 

Mr Brady, the chairman mentioned earlier, announced on Monday afternoon that the committee had met with the board of the Conservative Party and agreed on a way forward.

Nominations will open and close on Tuesday.

Mr Brady said hopefuls would need at least 20 nominations from the party’s 358 MPs to even proceed to the first round of votes on Wednesday.

Anyone who then received less than 30 votes would be eliminated before another vote followed on Thursday.

The field will be whittled down to the final two candidates before a postal ballot of the Conservative Party’s members — who number fewer than 200,000 — takes place over the summer.

The battle to secure the top job comes after one of the most tumultuous periods in modern British political history, when more than 50 government ministers, junior ministers and aides quit, denouncing Mr Johnson’s character, integrity and honesty.

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