What is the Queen’s role in the appointment of a new prime minister?

·3-min read
The Queen welcomes newly elected leader of the Conservative party Boris Johnson during an audience in Buckingham Palace, where she invited him to become Prime Minister and form a new government (Victoria Jones/PA) (PA Wire)
The Queen welcomes newly elected leader of the Conservative party Boris Johnson during an audience in Buckingham Palace, where she invited him to become Prime Minister and form a new government (Victoria Jones/PA) (PA Wire)

The Queen plays an important constitutional role in the appointment of a new prime minister.

Boris Johnson – the 14th prime minister of her 70-year reign – will travel to see the head of state to formally tender his resignation, while the new Conservative Party leader – either Liz Truss or Rishi Sunak – will be asked to form a government.

A prime minister’s resignation audience has always traditionally taken place at Buckingham Palace, but the key audiences will take place next Tuesday in Balmoral instead.

The appointment of a prime minister is ‘one of the few remaining personal prerogatives of the sovereign’ (Frank Augustein/PA) (PA Wire)
The appointment of a prime minister is ‘one of the few remaining personal prerogatives of the sovereign’ (Frank Augustein/PA) (PA Wire)

The Queen, 96, travels to her private home in the Scottish Highlands each summer for her annual break, usually staying until October.

During her Platinum Jubilee celebrations, the Queen only travelled to Buckingham Palace twice, first for her Trooping the Colour balcony appearance and then for a finale after the pageant.

She spends most of her time at Windsor Castle, 22 miles from central London, living there during the pandemic and while major renovations take place at Buckingham Palace, and for her comfort.

As head of state, it is the Queen’s duty to appoint the prime minister who leads Her Majesty’s Government.

The Queen welcomes Theresa May for an audience where she invited the former home secretary to become prime minister and form a new government in 2016 (Dominic Lipinski/PA) (PA Wire)
The Queen welcomes Theresa May for an audience where she invited the former home secretary to become prime minister and form a new government in 2016 (Dominic Lipinski/PA) (PA Wire)

The Royal Encyclopedia states that the appointment of a prime minister is “one of the few remaining personal prerogatives of the sovereign”.

It says that, in the normal course of events, the monarch does not act on advice nor need to consult anyone before calling upon the leader with an overall majority of seats in the House of Commons to form a government.

But the Queen is guided by constitutional conventions and can seek advice from the outgoing prime minister, any other political leader, senior Privy Counsellors, or whomever she pleases within the limits of prudence and caution.

Mr Johnson’s last duty is expected to be to tell the monarch which person has enough support to form the next government.

The Queen is a constitutional monarch who remains politically neutral.

When a potential prime minister is called to see the Queen, she will ask them whether they will form a government. The most usual response is acceptance.

Sir Winston Churchill – the first prime minister of the Queen’s reign – bows to the monarch in 1955 (PA) (PA Wire)
Sir Winston Churchill – the first prime minister of the Queen’s reign – bows to the monarch in 1955 (PA) (PA Wire)

After a new PM has been appointed, the Court Circular will record that “the Prime Minister kissed hands on appointment”.

This is not literally the case and it is usually a handshake.

The Queen is expected to hold a virtual Privy Council the following day on September 7, rather than an in-person one, and the new PM will be sworn in as First Lord of the Treasury, among other business.

The new prime minister will be the Queen’s 15th.

Here are the 14 premiers of the Queen’s reign so far:

– Sir Winston Churchill (Conservative, 1951-55)

– Sir Anthony Eden (Conservative, 1955-57)

– Harold Macmillan (Conservative, 1957-63)

– Sir Alec Douglas-Home (Conservative, 1963-64)

– Harold Wilson (Labour, 1964-70 and 1974-76)

– Sir Edward Heath (Conservative, 1970-74)

– James Callaghan (Labour, 1976-79)

– Baroness Margaret Thatcher (Conservative, 1979-90)

– Sir John Major (Conservative, 1990-97)

– Sir Tony Blair (Labour, 1997-2007)

– Gordon Brown (Labour, 2007-2010)

– David Cameron (Conservative, 2010-2016)

– Theresa May (Conservative, 2016-2019)

– Boris Johnson (Conservative, 2019-2022)