Boris Johnson has resigned as prime minister of the United Kingdom, and someone new will need to replace him! But we don’t currently know who the new prime minister will be! Today, I’m going to try and explain why Johnson resigned, how the new leader will be chosen, and explain some of the vocabulary needed to talk about British politics!
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Step down (phrasal v) – to leave an important job or position
He has decided to step down as captain of the team
Executive (n) – the part of government that is responsible for making certain that laws and decisions are put into action
The Prime Minister is in charge of the British executive
Scandal (n) – (an action or event that causes) a public feeling of shock and strong moral disapproval
Their relationship caused a scandal in the office
To grope (v) – to touch someone’s body, usually when the other person does not like it
He was groped by a man at the bar
Accusation (n) – a statement saying that someone has done something morally wrong, illegal, or unkind
He made accusations against his former employers
To handle (v) – to deal with, have responsibility for, or be in charge of
I thought he handled the situation very well
To nominate(v) – to officially suggest someone for an election, job, position, or honour
Would you like to nominate anyone for director?
Candidate (n) – a person who is competing to get a job or elected position
There are three candidates standing in the election
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Boris Johnson has announced his intention to resign as Prime Minister of the UK. After months of scandals, Johnson has officially left his role as the leader of the Conservative party and will step down as Prime Minister once a replacement is found.
For people from outside of the UK, our politics can be confusing. Why did Johnson resign? If he resigned, why is he still the Prime Minister until September or October? What actually is the job of a Prime Minister? How did the resignation happen? How will the next Prime Minister be chosen? Who will be the next Prime Minister?
Today, I’d like to try and answer some of these questions. I’m going to explain, as best as I can, the details about this part of UK politics! And along the way, I will introduce some useful vocabulary that you can all use to talk about Boris Johnson’s resignation, the new UK Prime Minister, and perhaps even your country’s politics.
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What is the Prime Minister?
I think we should start right at the beginning. Boris Johnson resigned as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom… but what actually is a Prime Minister?
The Prime Minister is the head of government in countries with a parliamentary political system. The term Prime Minister was originally an insult, and simply means the “first” or most important minister in the government. If a country has a Prime Minister, they usually have separate heads of government and heads of state. For example, in the UK the Queen is the head of state and the prime minister is the head of the government. In Germany, the president is the head of state and the chancellor is the head of the government.
The role of the Prime Minister developed in 18th century Britain. The King used to attend and lead meetings of the government ministers, but eventually the monarch stopped attending these meetings and a senior minister took over their role. This senior minister was able to become influential and use the power of the executive. Robert Walpole is generally considered to be the first real Prime Minister of the UK!
In the UK, while in theory the Queen still appoints the Prime Minister, in practice it is always the leader of the largest political party in parliament. The Prime Minister must be able to lead a majority of the politicians in parliament – this is why the PM is almost always from the largest political party.
So what does the Prime Minister do?
The Prime Minister is the leader of the cabinet. I mentioned this in the episode I recorded on the US supreme court a few weeks ago, but the cabinet is basically a committee of senior ministers responsible for controlling government policy. And a minister is the head of a government department.
So, the Prime Minister supervises and coordinates the Cabinet. Over the years, the role of the government has become more complicated and the Prime Minister has tended to concentrate on the most high-profile parts of government. For example, foreign relations, defence, and economic policy.
This may sound quite similar to a President, but there are some key differences. First, the Prime Minister is still a member of parliament. They attend parliament and vote on key decisions – just like any other member. And therefore the Prime Minister also has a local area they represent. Boris Johnson for example is the member of parliament for Uxbridge and South Ruislip – a part of Greater London!
Another key difference is how the Prime Minister is elected. To decide the president of the USA, every single American can vote to decide. This is not the case in the UK. The Prime Minister is the leader of the biggest party in parliament – and is not decided by the whole country but by their party! I’ll talk more about this later.
Why did Boris Johnson Resign?
There is no one simple reason to explain Boris Johnson’s resignation. Three years ago Boris Johnson led the Conservative party to their biggest victory in an election since 1987. The Conservatives had a strong leader. So what happened?
Scandals. So many scandals. I’m just going to mention three main ones… but there were many more!
The main scandal that led to Johnson’s resignation was to do with the MP Chris Pincher. He was appointed by Johnson to one of the most important roles in the government. At the end of June, Chris Pincher went to a club in London and groped two men. Over the next few days, more and more accusations against Pincher came out – apparently he had been doing things like this for years.
Boris Johnson denied he had any knowledge of these accusations before he appointed Pincher to government. Johnson also forced other senior politicians to go on TV and state that the prime minister never knew anything about Chris Pincher’s behaviour. This was untrue.
It was revealed that Boris Johnson knew about Chris Pincher’s behaviour, and had been told about it in 2019. He had lied. And for the Conservative politicians this was the final time they were willing to accept the prime minister lying. While it might not seem like a big incident on its own, Johnson had been involved in so many other scandals that the Conservative MPs couldn’t handle it.
Other scandals included “partygate.” “Partygate” is the name for the scandal involving the Prime Minister attending parties during the Covid lockdowns in the UK. I wrote something about this in January – so you can read it if you’d like to know more. The economy has also been suffering, the UK has high inflation, taxes are being raised, and the government has no clear policies.
Scandal after scandal, problem after problem. Eventually, the rest of the Conservative party lost trust in Boris Johnson as leader. They decided they needed someone else to be their leader.
Over the course of 2 or 3 days, over 50 different ministers and advisors (including senior Cabinet members) resigned from their roles and asked Johnson to quit. In the end, Johnson had no choice but to resign as well!
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How will the next PM be chosen?
However, he’s not fully resigned yet. And this will probably confuse most people. If he’s resigned… Why is he still the Prime Minister?
It is because the Prime Minister has two roles – the leader of the largest party in parliament and the leader of the government. Johnson has resigned as leader of the Conservative party – he no longer has the job. And right now the Conservatives are in the process of choosing a new leader.
However, it takes time to choose the new leader, and this is why Johnson has not resigned as Prime Minister. The UK needs someone to lead it. While some people wanted the deputy Prime Minister to take over, in the end they decided Johnson could stay in power until his replacement was chosen.
How do the Conservatives choose a new leader?
First, candidates for the job must be a Conservative MP and nominated by at least 20 different other Conservative MPs. 9 MPs managed this step earlier in the month. Then, there are two steps to the competition.
First, the candidates must be selected by the other Conservative members of parliament. There are rounds of voting, with the candidate with the lowest support leaving the competition after each round of voting. As I’m writing this, there are three candidates left – Rishi Sunak, Penny Mordaunt, and Liz Truss. However, the final two candidates may have been decided by the time this is released.
The second stage of the competition is a vote by all of the members of the party. There are around 180,000 Conservative party members in the UK, and they will all be able to choose the next leader of their party. You must be a member of the Conservatives to vote for their next leader.
3 years ago, when Theresa May resigned from the job, it took around 2 months for Boris Johnson to be chosen as the new leader. It will probably take a similar amount of time for this decision. The new leader should be in place by September 5th.
As I said earlier, there are currently 3 candidates left – Rishi Sunak, Penny Mordaunt, and Liz Truss. Rishi Sunak is the frontrunner, but we will have to wait until after summer to find out the next Prime Minister of the UK!
The new leader of the UK will not be chosen by a countrywide election, but instead by around 180,000 members of the British Conservative party. This can be quite confusing, but hopefully after listening to today’s episode you have a little better understanding.
In summary, the prime minister is not elected directly in the UK. Instead, the leader of the largest political party in parliament acts as the Prime Minister – and this means the UK can change leaders without needing a national election!
The next prime minister of the UK will be decided over the summer – and they will have a difficult job. The economy is in a mess, inflation is soaring, and the pandemic is still an issue!
How about in your country? How is the leader of your country chosen? Is it similar to the UK? Or perhaps more like America? Or is it different to both countries?
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