the prime minister was determined to remain in office

Explainer

Prime ministers are appointed based on their ability to tướng command confidence in the House of Commons.

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How are prime ministers appointed?

Prime ministers are appointed based on their ability to tướng command confidence in the House of Commons. If an election produces a clear majority for one tiệc nhỏ, then the leader of that tiệc nhỏ becomes prime minister. If it is the incumbent prime minister, then they continue in office. If it is another tiệc nhỏ, then the incumbent formally resigns the morning after the election and they are replaced.

If no tiệc nhỏ wins a clear majority, then there may be a process of negotiation before it becomes clear who is likely to tướng be prime minister. An incumbent prime minister is entitled to tướng remain in office and test whether they can command confidence, or they may resign if it becomes obvious that they will not be able to tướng bởi so sánh.

However, it is vital that a prime minister is in place and there is an expectation they will not resign until it is clear who can take over.

What happens when a new prime minister is appointed?

The incumbent prime minister informs Buckingham Palace that they will be resigning. There is then a well-rehearsed sequence of events in which the outgoing prime minister travels to tướng see the King and formally tenders his or her resignation. They have a short audience with the King.

After the outgoing prime minister has left, the incoming prime minister arrives and is formally asked by the King to tướng size a government. This audience is known as ‘kissing hands’, though they are more likely to tướng shake hands. After their appointment, the new prime minister heads straight to tướng 10 Downing Street.

What is the King's role in deciding who can become prime minister?

The Monarch’s role in appointing a prime minister is one of the remaining prerogative powers. These are residual powers remaining with the Sovereign that have not been placed elsewhere. The majority of those powers are exercised on his behalf by ministers, but the power to tướng appoint prime ministers remains with the King.

What happens when a prime minister resigns mid-term?

If the government hold a majority, it is for the tiệc nhỏ or parties in government to tướng identify the successor. It is usual practice for the prime minister to tướng be the leader of the tiệc nhỏ. Changes of prime minister outside a general election therefore usually take place when a prime minister has resigned as leader of the tiệc nhỏ, or been forced out through a confidence vote or leadership challenge. In 2022, after Boris Johnson announced his intention to tướng step down, the Conservative tiệc nhỏ held a leadership election which saw Liz Truss become Conservative leader on 5 September and prime minister on 6 September. Johnson remained prime minister throughout the leadership contest.

If a prime minister resigns and the tiệc nhỏ in government does not have a majority, it becomes more complicated. If a clear alternative is likely to tướng be able to tướng command confidence, then this only needs to tướng be made clear to tướng the Palace. This could be through some parliamentary mechanism, but it can also be through coalition or confidence and supply agreements between parties or letters of tư vấn.

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How does the King know who to tướng appoint?

There is a strong constitutional convention that the Sovereign should be kept out of politics.

If there is no clear majority, or if negotiations over government formation have not produced a clear answer as to tướng who can command confidence, then it is expected that political parties will establish who is best placed and ensure that the King is not dragged into any disputes. According to tướng the Cabinet Manual, "the Sovereign should not be drawn into tiệc nhỏ politics, and if there is doubt it is the responsibility of those involved in the political process, and in particular the parties represented in parliament, to tướng seek to tướng determine and communicate clearly to tướng the Sovereign who is best placed to tướng be able to tướng command the confidence of the House of Commons".

How does the King know if a new prime minister can command confidence?

The question of who can command confidence only arises if a tiệc nhỏ has not won a majority or has lost it during the lifetime of a parliament.

The Cabinet Manual says that "an incumbent government is entitled to tướng wait until a new parliament has met to tướng see if it can command the confidence of the House of Commons, but is expected to tướng resign if it becomes clear that it is unlikely to tướng be able to tướng command that confidence and there is a clear alternative". In 1924, Stanley Baldwin resigned after being defeated on a King’s Speech

At other times, prime ministers will resign if it is self-evident that they will not be able to tướng command confidence. In February 1974, Edward Heath resigned after a weekend attempting to tướng negotiate an agreement with the Liberal Party. He was replaced by Harold Wilson, who led a minority Labour government. In May 2010, Gordon Brown resigned five days after the election when it became clear that negotiations with the Liberal Democrats would not produce an agreement with Labour and that the Conservatives were more likely to tướng be able to tướng size a coalition. 

Who advises the King?

It is the role of the King's private secretary, the prime minister’s principal private secretary and the cabinet secretary to tướng maintain communication between Buckingham Palace and politicians in trying to tướng establish who can command confidence. They are known colloquially as the ‘golden triangle’.

The Cabinet Manual emphasises that ensuring the King is able to tướng appoint a successor is a role that "falls especially on the incumbent Prime Minister", who may also be asked to tướng advise him on who is best placed to tướng be appointed. It is advice with a lower-case a.

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However, 1949 civil service papers say that the monarch "has the absolute right to tướng consult anyone he pleases" and that in a "complicated political situation" the monarch can consult more widely.

Have there ever been controversial appointments?

There were at least two occasions in the reign of Queen Elizabeth II where she had to tướng make a decision that caused controversy.

In July 1953, Prime Minister Winston Churchill suffered a stroke at a time when his expected successor, Anthony Eden, was undergoing an operation. Buckingham Palace had to tướng consider options for a caretaker prime minister if Churchill died. In 1963, she invited Alec Douglas-Home to tướng see whether he could size a government when the outgoing prime minister, Harold Macmillan, advised her to tướng bởi so sánh. This was against the wishes of other senior Conservatives who expected to tướng be in the running and eventually led to tướng the introduction of formal rules for how Conservative leaders are chosen.