Deputy Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
|Deputy Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland|
|Government of the United Kingdom|
Prime Minister's Office
|Reports to||Prime Minister|
|Residence||None, may use Grace and favour residences|
(on the advice of the Prime Minister)
|Term length||No fixed term|
|Formation||5 July 1995|
|First holder||Michael Heseltine|
|Political offices in the UK government|
|List of political offices|
|This article is part of a series on|
|Politics of the United Kingdom|
|United Kingdom portal|
The deputy prime minister of the United Kingdom (DPM) is a minister of the Crown of the government of the United Kingdom. The office is currently held by Thérèse Coffey, who is the first woman to serve in the position. The office is not always in use, and prime ministers may use other offices, such as First Secretary of State, to indicate the seniority.
One classical argument made against appointing a minister to the office is that it might restrict the monarch's royal prerogative to choose a Prime Minister. However, Rodney Brazier has more recently written that there is a strong constitutional case for every Prime Minister to appoint a Deputy Prime Minister, to ensure an effective temporary transfer of power in most circumstances. Similarly, Vernon Bogdanor has said that that argument holds little weight in the modern context, since the monarch no longer has any real discretion, and that, even in the past, a person acting as deputy prime minister had no real advantage to being appointed Prime Minister by the monarch (though this might be different within political parties in relation to their respective leaderships). Like Brazier, he also says that there is a good constitutional case for recognising the office; for in the case of the death or incapacity of the incumbent prime minister.
Brazier has written that there are three reasons why a deputy prime minister has been appointed: to set out the line of succession to the premiership preferred by the prime minister, to promote the efficient discharge of government business and (in the case of Labour governments) to accord recognition to the status of the deputy leader of the Labour party.
Before World War II, a minister was occasionally invited to act as deputy prime minister when the prime minister was ill or abroad, but no one was styled as such when the prime minister was in the country and physically able to run the government.
This changed in 1942 when Clement Attlee was appointed deputy prime minister, though such a designation was seen as an exceptional result of a coalition and the war, and it has been said that Attlee's 1942 appointment was not formally approved by the King or, similarly, a matter of form rather than fact. The designation was because Prime Minister Winston Churchill wanted to demonstrate the importance of the Labour party in the coalition, not for any reasons relating to succession; he actually left written advice that the King should send for Anthony Eden if he were to die, not Attlee. Junior party leaders Lord Curzon of Kedleston, Bonar Law and Nick Clegg were similarly given offices in coalitions.
After this, fearing a possible curtailment of the monarch's prerogative to choose a prime minister, no one was formally styled deputy prime minister (though there was often a senior minister generally regarded as such) until Michael Heseltine in 1995. John Prescott in 1997, Clegg in 2010, Raab in 2021 and Coffey in 2022 were later appointed deputy prime minister.
Office and residence
There is no set of offices permanently ready to house the deputy prime minister. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg maintained an office at the Cabinet Office headquarters, 70 Whitehall, which is linked to 10 Downing Street. Clegg's predecessor, Prescott, maintained his main office at 26 Whitehall.
The prime minister may also give them the use of a grace and favour country house. While in office, Nick Clegg resided at his private residence in Putney and he shared Chevening House with First Secretary William Hague as a weekend residence. Clegg's predecessor, John Prescott, used Dorneywood.
The prime minister's second-in-command has variably served as deputy prime minister, first secretary and de facto deputy and at other times prime ministers have chosen not to select a permanent deputy at all, preferring ad hoc arrangements. It has also been suggested that the office of Lord President of the Council (which comes with leading precedence) has been intermittently used for deputies in the past.
Picking out definitive deputies to the prime minister has been described as a highly problematic task.
Bogdanor, in his 1995 publication The Monarchy and the Constitution, said that the following people had acted as deputy prime ministers (by this he meant they had chaired the Cabinet in the absence of the prime minister and chaired a number of key Cabinet Committees):
In an academic article first published in 2015, Jonathan Kirkup and Stephen Thornton used five criteria to identify deputies: gazetted or styled in Hansard as deputy prime minister; 'officially' designated deputy prime minister by the prime minister; widely recognised by their colleagues as deputy prime minister; second in the ministerial ranking; and chaired the Cabinet or took Prime Minister's Questions in the prime minister's absence. They said that the following people have the best claim to the position of deputy to the prime minister:
They also said that the following three people would have a reasonable claim:
Nobody has the right of automatic succession to the prime ministership. However, it is generally considered that in the event of the death of the prime minister, it would be appropriate to appoint an interim prime minister, though there is some debate as to how to decide who this should be.
According to Brazier, there are no procedures within government to cope with the sudden death of the prime minister. There is also no such title as acting prime minister of the United Kingdom. Despite refusing "...to discuss a hypothetical situation" with BBC News in 2011, the Cabinet Office is said to have said in 2006:
There is no single protocol setting out all of the possible implications. However, the general constitutional position is as set out below. There can be no automatic assumption about who The Queen would ask to act as caretaker Prime Minister in the event of the death of the Prime Minister. The decision is for her under the Royal Prerogative. However, there are some key guiding principles. The Queen would probably be looking for a very senior member of the Government (not necessarily a Commons Minister since this would be a short-term appointment). If there was a recognised deputy to the Prime Minister, used to acting on his behalf in his absences, this could be an important factor. Also important would be the question of who was likely to be in contention to take over long-term as Prime Minister. If the most senior member of the Government was him or herself a contender for the role of Prime Minister, it might be that The Queen would invite a slightly less senior non-contender. In these circumstances, her private secretary would probably take soundings, via the Cabinet Secretary, of members of the Cabinet, to ensure that The Queen invited someone who would be acceptable to the Cabinet to act as their chair during the caretaker period. Once the Party had elected a new leader, that person would, of course, be invited to take over as Prime Minister.
Additionally, when the prime minister is travelling, it is standard practice for a senior duty minister to be appointed who can attend to urgent business and meetings if required, though the prime minister remains in charge and updated throughout.
List of deputy prime ministers
In contrast to the above list of unofficial deputies, few people have been formally appointed deputy prime minister. Ministers are appointed by the monarch, on the advice of the prime minister. Only five people can be described as definitely being appointed deputy prime minister in such a manner.[Note 1][Note 2]
|Term of office||Other ministerial portfolios held during tenure||Party||Ministry||Monarch|
|The Right Honourable
MP for Henley
|Conservative||Major II||Elizabeth II|
|The Right Honourable
MP for Kingston upon Hull East
|The Right Honourable
MP for Sheffield Hallam
|The Right Honourable
MP for Esher and Walton
|The Right Honourable
MP for Suffolk Coastal
- Both Brazier and Norton include Clement Attlee in their lists. However, Hennessy says that Attlee's inclusion in the 1942 minute signed off by The King simply read "Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs" and that it was on separate paper that Winston Churchill wrote "Deputy Prime Minister". Bogdanor similarly asserts that the change was in form rather than fact and that Attlee was never formally appointed deputy prime minister.
- In his list of official deputy prime ministers, Brazier includes Geoffrey Howe. However, Norton doesn't in his. Norton explains that Buckingham Palace took issue with appointing Howe "Deputy Prime Minister" and proposed "Sir Geoffrey will act as Deputy Prime Minister". On the other hand, in a 1995 (rather than 2020 publication) Bogdanor, asserts that no application to the Palace to appoint Howe deputy prime minister was made at all.
- First Secretary of State
- Deputy Leader of the Conservative Party (UK)
- Deputy Leader of the Labour Party (UK)
- Seldon, Meakin & Thoms 2021, p. 171.
- Norton 2020, p. 152.
- Bogdanor 1995, p. 88.
- Brazier 2020, p. 82-83.
- Brazier 1988, p. 176.
- Priddy, Sarah (19 October 2020). "Attendance of the Prime Minister at Prime Minister's Questions (PMQs) since 1979". parliament.uk. Archived from the original on 24 April 2020. Retrieved 3 June 2021.
- Norton 2020, p. 141-142.
- Norton 2020, p. 142.
- Hennessy 1995, p. 16.
- Bogdanor 1995, p. 87.
- Norton 2020, p. 142-144.
- Brazier 2020, p. 73.
- "Nick Clegg could be given use of stately home where John Prescott played croquet". The Telegraph. 13 May 2010. Archived from the original on 17 September 2012. Retrieved 22 May 2010.
- "Deputy Prime Minister | Contact us". gov.uk. Archived from the original on 16 May 2010. Retrieved 22 May 2010.
- "Hague and Clegg given timeshare of official residence". BBC News. 18 May 2010. Retrieved 22 May 2010.
- Seldon, Meakin & Thoms 2021, p. 157.
- Norton 2020, p. 144.
- Kirkup & Thornton 2017, p. 517.
- Bogdanor 1995, p. 87-88.
- Kirkup & Thornton 2017, p. 495.
- Brazier 2020, p. 80-82.
- Norton 2020, p. 143.
- Brazier 2020, p. 174.
- Norton 2016, p. 34.
- Brazier 2020, p. 84.
- Brazier 2020, p. 68.
- "MP urges 'line of succession' rules for prime minister". BBC News. 21 December 2011. Retrieved 6 June 2021.
- Vennard 2008, p. 304.
- Mason, Chris (15 August 2016). "Is Boris Johnson running the country?". BBC News. Archived from the original on 15 August 2016. Retrieved 19 March 2021.
- "Statement from Downing Street: 6 April 2020". gov.uk. 6 April 2020. Retrieved 19 March 2021.
- Britchfield, Colm; Devine, Dan; Durrant, Tim (8 April 2021). "Government ministers". Institute for Government. Archived from the original on 8 December 2019. Retrieved 22 July 2021.
- Brazier 2020, p. 77.
- Norton 2020, p. 143-144.
- Brazier, Rodney (1988). "The deputy prime minister". Public Law.
- Brazier, Rodney (2020). Choosing a Prime Minister: The Transfer of Power in Britain. Oxford University Press.
- Bogdanor, Vernon (1995). The Monarchy and the Constitution. Clarendon Press.
- Hennessy, Peter (1995). The Hidden Wiring: Unearthing the British Constitution. Indigo.
- Kirkup, Jonathan; Thornton, Stephen (2017). "'Everyone needs a Willie': The elusive position of deputy to the British prime minister". British Politics. 12 (4): 492–520. doi:10.1057/bp.2015.42. S2CID 156861636.
- Norton, Philip (2016). "A temporary occupant of No.10? Prime Ministerial succession in the event of the death of the incumbent". Public Law.
- Norton, Philip (2020). Governing Britain: Parliament, Ministers and Our Ambiguous Constitution. Manchester University Press.
- Seldon, Anthony; Meakin, Jonathan; Thoms, Illias (2021). The Impossible Office? The History of the British Prime Minister. Cambridge University Press.
- Vennard, Andrew (2008). "Prime Ministerial succession". Public Law.