Boris Johnson resigns, but what the hell happens next? All your burning questions, answered

Written by Amy Beecham

It’s been a whirlwind 48 hours in British politics, but now it’s confirmed: Boris Johnson will resign as prime minister. So what the hell happens next?

It happened slowly at first, then all at once. The resignations of chancellor Rishi Sunak and health secretary Sajid Javid sent shockwaves around Westminster. MPs began dropping like flies, with more than 50 resignations within 36 hours.

Boris Johnson may have only last night insisted that he would “fight on”, but by this morning (6 July) it was confirmed: he will resign.

We celebrated, we breathed long-held sighs of relief and we snorted with laughter at the memes that quickly took hold of the internet. Then the panic, anxiety and confusion came rushing back.

What happens now? Who is in charge? What if he doesn’t actually go? And god forbid, what if the next person is even worse?

While it’s perfectly natural to be feeling more than a little bit frazzled by the chaotic turn of events, we put our most burning questions to a political expert to try and shed some much-needed light on the still-developing situation.

What happens now?

While it may feel like the government is collapsing in front of our very eyes, there is indeed plenty of protocol for the resignation of an in-office prime minister.

“Normally the way it would work is that the existing prime minister would stay until a new leader of the party was elected, but it seems clear that there are some Conservative MPs who would not be happy with that arrangement,” Dr Daniel Gover, lecturer in British politics at Queen Mary University of London, tells Stylist.

Following Johnson’s resignation, the 1922 Committee of backbench Conservative MPs will set the timetable for the leadership contest. To take part in the race, an MP has to be nominated by eight colleagues, and a series of secret ballots will be held to whittle down the candidates until a leader is decided. The winner will then become Conservative Party leader and prime minister.

“It is clearly now the will of the parliamentary Conservative Party that there should be a new leader of that party and therefore a new prime minister,” Johnson himself confirmed in a televised speech.

“I’ve agreed with Sir Graham Brady, the chairman of our backbench MPs, that the process of choosing that new leader should begin now and the timetable will be announced next week.”

“I’ve today appointed a Cabinet to serve, as I will, until a new leader is in place,” he added.

So will someone else take over from Boris Johnson in the meantime? According to Dr Gover: “Constitutionally, there isn’t technically an ‘interim’ prime minister that can step in for the meantime, but functionally there is the possibility of a caretaker prime minister to temporarily replace Johnson, such as deputy prime minister Dominic Raab.”

Who is currently in charge of the country?

Despite his intention to resign, Dr Gover states that Boris Johnson is still the prime minister and therefore holds all of the same powers that he had before.

“I think in practice, he’s likely to be limited in the sorts of decisions that he can take,” he explains. “And I think one of the things feeding into this discussion about whether or not there should be somebody else taking over is: do Conservative MPs trust Boris Johnson not to make big policy changes during this period?

“Because actually, I think he could if he stayed on; he couldmake whatever policy decisions he wanted to, which could be seen as a risk to some party members.”

Boris Johnson remains prime minister of the UK until a new party leader is elected

Who is likely to be the next prime minister – and will we be better off?

With rumours swirling that include Liz Truss, Nadhim Zahawi or Rishi Sunak could replace Johnson, who is actually in the running for the country’s top job?

“It’s currently really hard to say who is going to be the next prime minister,” Dr Gover shares.

“There are lots of different factions within the Conservative Party that are going to be putting their case forward, so it’s really all to play for at the moment. The leadership election is going to be a contest in which a lot of fundamental questions about the direction of the Conservative Party are really going to be fought over.”

Dr Gover suggests that big policy questions surrounding Brexit, tax and spending are all likely to be integral to who is the next elected leader. So does that rule out another Boris-like figure?

“It is possible that after Johnson we could end up with a much more balanced and conceptual figure, but I wouldn’t bank on it,” he says. “I would have said that Nadhim Zahawi had a very, very good chance, but that may have been depleted when he took the position as chancellor, but there are also some backbench options too. It’s all really in flux for now.”

A number of Conservative MPs including Liz Truss and Priti Patel could run for leadership

Will there be a general election this year?

Dr Gover suggests that it’s “fairly unlikely” that a general election is on the cards in 2022.

“At the moment, given that the Tories are quite far behind in the polls, I suspect that they wouldn’t risk it,” he explains.

“I think what is likely to happen is that we will have the Conservative Party leadership election take place over the summer. Boris Johnson seems to want that to be concluded in October, but there will be pressure to bring it forward so that there is a new leader in place before that. Then, it will be up to the new prime minister to set up the government, so there’s not really a requirement for there to be a general election following that.”

Will the Queen get involved?

Despite the dramatic turn of events, Dr Gover says it’s also unlikely the Queen would get involved beyond the usual formalities. However, he suggests that the outcome could have been very different.

“If Boris Johnson had refused to resign, I think that would have put the Queen and the palace in a really difficult position,” he continues. 

“Constitutionally, Her Majesty has the power to dismiss the prime minister, but usually doesn’t get involved in party political matters. Had he refused to resign though, and you had a situation where it was clear that he had lost the confidence of the House of Commons, there may have been some intervention. But as it stands, it looks as though he is going to resign of his own accord.”

Images: Getty/Molly Saunders

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