British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s premiership is coming to an end, he announced Thursday, as a wave of resignations in his cabinet left his position as leader untenable.
Sexual misconduct allegations made against a senior lawmaker in Johnson’s government was just the latest in a series of scandals to strain the leader’s relationship with his party. Johnson announced on Thursday that he will resign, but he would remain in office until the party elects a new leader. Johnson’s ability to keep his office open during the interim is still a mystery.
You can find out what’s next and the process of choosing U.K. leadership leaders below.
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Johnson will remain in office for how long?
Johnson stated that he would remain on the job until a new Conservative leader was selected. However, growing demands are for Johnson to leave immediately. A temporary caretaker role as prime minister will be taken by another member of Johnson’s party. A few names have been suggested, including Dominic Raab as Deputy Prime Minister.
Conservatives may take several weeks to choose their new party leader. Since the Conservative party is the majority party in the U.K parliament, the winning candidate for the party leadership contest will be the prime minister.
Which Conservative leader is chosen?
In the UK, prime ministers of Britain are elected in general elections that take place every five years. Instead of voting for the nation’s leader directly, as is the case in presidential electoral systems, the public chooses between delegates of each party to represent their local area, known as a constituency. The election is won by the party winning the most constituencies. This party’s leader usually becomes the prime minister.
The Conservatives have a strong majority in parliament with 358 of 650 seats, after winning the 2019 general election under Johnson’s leadership.
A process is used to select party leaders. This happens in advance of general elections, in cases where a leader is ousted or stepped down. A Conservative member of parliament must be nominated at least 8 times to run for the position. Johnson is likely to be followed by Rishi Sunak (ex-finance minister), Ben Wallace (ex-defense secretary), and Sajid Javid (ex-health secretary), among other candidates. Two-stage screening takes place to select the winner from all nominees.
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First, MPs trim down the candidates in secret ballots. At each round, the candidate with the lowest number of votes is eliminated and two remain.
The second stage is where card-carrying members of grassroots parties vote for the two final candidates. (It’s possible that it never goes to a final run-off, as was the case in 2017, after May’s opponents were eliminated or eventually withdrew.) Anyone in the U.K. can become a member of a party, provided that they pay a membership fee—which is £25 ($30) for the Conservatives. There are approximately 200,000 Conservative Party members. This means that the final decision to select Johnson’s successor will be made by roughly 0.29% of the British population.
Grassroots party members haven’t always been able to influence the outcome of leadership contests. To encourage grassroots supporters, and to reverse decades of declining membership, the Conservatives handed some power over to the ranks in 1998. The new system helps decentralize party politics. However, the low number of card-carrying Conservative members may not reflect Conservative voter values accurately.
Timeline for selecting a leader
2019 was the year Theresa May resigned from her position as Prime Minister. The internal party voting process took six week, and Boris Johnson became leader, beating Jeremy Hunt. Candidates may have to wait for the process to start before they can run. Johnson stated that there will be a timetable for the contest in his resignation statement.
This is what it means for British voters.
Although there is not a set date, it is likely to take place in the late 2024-early 2025. The Conservative party’s leaders can either resign or be removed by MPs in a no confidence vote. Johnson was able to survive a confidence vote of 211 votes against 148 on June 6 and May by 200 votes towards 117 in December 2018. He then resigned by May by 225 votes, and 325 votes at 306 during a challenge to the entire parliamentary system in January 2019.
A new Conservative leader could call an early general elections to strengthen their mandate with the public. This is however a risky option. Although Johnson won a large majority after the December 2019 election, allowing him to push through his Brexit agenda, May’s decision to call a snap election in 2017 resulted in the Conservative party losing its parliamentary majority—and contributed to the Brexit impasse that led her to resign in June later that year. (May took over after her predecessor, David Cameron, resigned in the wake of U.K. voters opting to back “Leave” in the June 2016 Brexit referendum.)
In his resignation statement on Thursday, Johnson cautioned against the idea of a snap general election, saying it didn’t make sense when the Conservatives are “delivering so much and [with] such vast mandates, when the economic scene is so difficult domestically and internationally.”
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