The terrifying first job Boris Johnson has to complete as Prime Minister

Newly elected leader of the Conservative party Boris Johnson leaves his office in Westminster, London, after it was announced he had won the leadership ballot and will become the next Prime Minister.
Boris Johnson has to make an important decision after entering Downing Street as Prime Minister (PA)

Boris Johnson has a lot to get on with as Prime Minister - but there is one very important job he has to get on with first.

Brexit may be the biggest issue facing Mr Johnson but his first job on entering Downing Street will be to write a letter of last resort, which is carried on board each of Britain's nuclear submarines.

For more than five decades the UK has maintained a continuous at-sea deterrence - with at least one nuclear ballistic missile submarine on patrol since 1969.

Four Vanguard-class submarines currently carry Britain's Trident missiles and warheads, with the decision to launch them sent through to the boat in an encrypted message.

The identical handwritten letters of last resort are located on each of the four submarines inside a Russian-doll like safe system, and are addressed to the commanding officer of each boat.

This is one of the first things a newly appointed prime minister is tasked with and offers instructions on what the crew should do in the event Britain is destroyed.

FASLANE, SCOTLAND - APRIL 29: General view of HMS Vigilant, which carries the UK's Trident nuclear deterrent on April 29, 2019 in Faslane, Scotland. A media tour of the submarine was arranged to mark 50 years of the continuous at sea nuclear deterrent (CASD). (Photo by James Glossop - WPA Pool/Getty Images)
Four Vanguard-class submarines currently carry Britain's Trident missiles and warheads (Getty)

"The Prime Minister is alone when they write the letter," Commodore Bob Anstey, assistant chief of staff submarines, has previously said.

"They get briefed on what it is for, why it exists and then they are left alone, given some paper, a shredder and some envelopes.

"Any drafts they have made, they shred them themselves so no one ever sees it. Then the envelopes are couriered up and put in the safe.


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"The previous one from the previous Prime Minister is shredded without opening, so nobody sees it.”

Mr Johnson will also be required to name 12 ministers and advisers who would be given a space in the underground nuclear bunker with their families in the event of nuclear armageddon.

Lord Wood of Anfield, a former foreign policy adviser, told The Times: “It’s incredibly scary.

Boris Johnson scratches his head as he speaks after being announced as the new leader of the Conservative Party in London, Tuesday, July 23, 2019. Brexit champion Boris Johnson won the contest to lead Britain's governing Conservative Party on Tuesday, and will become the country's next prime minister. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
Mr Johnson will have to write a letter of last resort, which is carried on board each of Britain's nuclear submarines (AP)

“It’s a particular kind of torture to make the first act of a prime minister, literally within 30 seconds, this extraordinarily dramatic act of handwritten notes only to be opened in the event of an apocalypse.”

When an order to launch is given, it will usually have come from the Prime Minister and is then turned into an encrypted 15-letter message and sent to the boat.

Once it is received, after being transmitted across all sorts of airwaves to ensure delivery, there is a process on board to decode the message of letters and numbers, and then to verify it.

This is done using crypto books which are kept in the safe system that is located in the control room of each submarine - with part of the message instructing which page to use.

If the order to launch is legitimate, then the commanding officer would proceed to move the submarine into the required position.

A number of keys are then inserted into specific panels on the submarine, with all having to be turned and "lined up" for the system and trigger to work.

Cdre Anstey said the trigger itself is based on the handle of a pistol, is red, and stored in the missile control centre.