What happens when a Prime Minister resigns? The next steps after Boris Johnson's resignation

A statement is expected soon

a close up of Boris Johnson waving at the cameras
(Image credit: Future/Getty)

As Britain waits for Boris Johnson's imminent resignation, many want to know what happens when a prime minister resigns?

It's safe to say that UK politics has dominated the news media this week, with a record-breaking number of ministers resigning (opens in new tab) their positions in the cabinet led by Boris Johnson. The move led members of the public wondering if Boris Johnson will resign (opens in new tab) or even if the Queen can sack the Prime Minister (opens in new tab) herself. But with several media reports confident of his resignation today, it seems these questions have now been answered.

A series of events usually follow when a Prime Minister announces their resignation. And we've shared what is expected to happen next, plus the favourites to replace Boris Johnson as future leader. 

What happens when a Prime Minister resigns?

Following a Prime Minister resignation, the Institute for Government (opens in new tab) explains that Tory MPs and members will then hold a leadership contest to choose a new leader of the Conservative Party. By default, this also means they’ll be choosing a new prime minister. 

There are two stages to this leadership contest. It takes a while and the rules vary at each one but generally:

  • As the Conservative Party won the most recent election, they are still in power - even though Boris Johnson has resigned. The new leader goes to Buckingham Palace shortly after being elected. There, they ask the Queen to appoint them as the new prime minister. 
  • Can the Queen say no? In theory she could - just as she could sack Boris Johnson as prime minister herself - but she probably wouldn’t. While the Queen can exercise the royal prerogative against the advice of the party in power, she would only do it in emergencies or other special circumstances.

A long shot of Boris Johnson departing 10 Downing Street, London

(Image credit: Getty)

Who could be the next Conservative Party leader?

  • Ex-Defence Secretary Penny Mordaunt (4/1)
  • Ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak (4/1)
  • Foreign Secretary Liz Truss (opens in new tab) (7/1)
  • Defence Secretary Ben Wallace (13/2)
  • Ex-Health Secretary Sajid Javid (13/2)
  • Chancellor of the Exchequer Nadhim Zahawi (9/1)
  • Tom Tugendhat, MP for Tonbridge and Malling (9/1)
  • Jeremy Hunt, chairman of the Commons Health Committee (15/2)
  • Dominic Raab, Deputy Prime Minister (12/1)
  • Home Secretary Priti Patel (40/1)

The Telegraph (opens in new tab) have named the above as a likely shortlist for the Conservative leadership contest. Whilst Betmakers Coral (opens in new tab) have also suggested Mordaunt, Sunak, Truss and Wallace as the top 4 potential candidates.

Former Defence Secretary Penny Mordaunt is the favourite as of July 7, 2022, with odds of 4/1. She seems popular with party members as a Conservative Home poll (opens in new tab) showed her as second choice after current defence secretary, Ben Wallace. It's understood that Defence Secretary Ben Wallace is popular on account of his work following the Russian invasion of Ukraine (opens in new tab) and evacuation of Afghanistan.

a collage showing Penny Dourmant, Rishi Sunak, Ben Wallace and Liz Truss

(L-R) Penny Dourmant, Rishi Sunak, Ben Wallace and Liz Truss

(Image credit: Future/Getty)

Recently resigned Rishi Sunak is another suggestion following his departure as Chancellor, leaving many wanting to know more about the ex-Chancellor - including how he voted on Brexit (opens in new tab) and his net worth (opens in new tab). Coral have named Foreign Secretary Liz Truss as another potential candidate. The 46-year-old most recently has faced public criticism for a new to send refugees to Rwanda (opens in new tab).

Similar to when Theresa May resigned, it is expected that a couple of wild-card inclusions will be on the list. For example, this included London Mayor candidate Rory Stewart in the Tory Leadership contest of 2019. The lesson here is don't be surprised by other less prominent Tory figures from throwing their name into the hat for the leadership battle.

The next Prime Minister will be announced (opens in new tab) on September 5 2022.

Will there be a general election?

It's very unlikely that there will be a general election following the resignation of Boris Johnson. The next general election (opens in new tab) is set for Thursday May 2 2024 under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act. Under the Act, which sets the date for each general election, there must be a five-year period between elections. They must also occur on the first Thursday in May. 

By law, an election happens outside this when half of MPs offer a no confidence vote in government. However, prior to his resignation, Boris Johnson survived a Vote of No Confidence in June - winning 211 to 148 votes.

A Prime Minister does have the power to call a "snap election" - though this is often highly unlikely considering their own party is in power. That being said, a snap election did take place in April 2017. 

The then Prime Minister Theresa May called an election (opens in new tab) in order to get a clear mandate on Brexit negotiations and additionally increase her Conservative Party's majority. However, the election actually led to the Tories losing seats and their parliament majority - resulting in a coalition with the Democratic Unionist Party to retain power.

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Emily Stedman
Emily Stedman

Emily Stedman is the News Features Editor for GoodTo covering all things royal, entertainment, lifestyle, health and wellbeing. Boasting an encyclopaedic knowledge on all things celebrity and royal, career highlights include working at HELLO! Magazine and as a royal researcher to Diana biographer Andrew Morton on his book Meghan: A Hollywood Princess. In her spare time, Emily can be found eating her way around London, swimming at her local Lido or curled up on the sofa binging the next best Netflix show.