Here Are Times The UK Has Replaced The Prime Minister During A War

Boris Johnson's allies have warned it would be dangerous to tip the country into a leadership election during the Ukraine crisis.
Marc Ward via PA Wire/PA Images

Boris Johnson looks likely to have survived any immediate threat to his leadership following the revelation he was fined by police for breaking lockdown laws.

The prime minister has been helped by the international situation, with many Tory MPs wary of tipping the party and country into a leadership election during the ongoing war in Ukraine.

Douglas Ross, the leader of the Scottish Tories who previously had demanded Johnson resign over the partygate scandal, has now said “it wouldn’t be right to remove the prime minister” while Vladimir Putin’s invasion is ongoing.

But the leadership of Labour, the Lib Dems and the SNP have all called for Johnson to quit. And are not convinced by the argument that war in Ukraine means the UK cannot change leader.

Here are some of the times the UK has swapped prime minister during wartime.


UK and US forces moved into Afghanistan following 9/11 in 2001. They only withdrew last year. Over the 20 years of deployment in the country, there were 457 deaths of British armed forces personnel.

During that time, Britain had four prime ministers. Tony Blair was replaced by Gordon Brown in 2007. Brown was replaced by David Cameron in 2010 at the general election that saw the coalition government takeover from Labour. Theresa May replaced Cameron in 2016 after the EU referendum. And Johnson replaced May after she was ousted by Tory MPs in 2019.

The Iraq War

When the UK joined the US’ invasion of Iraq in 2003, Tony Blair was prime minister. He was replaced by Brown in 2007. A total of 179 British armed forces personnel died. The last UK forces withdrew on May 2011, when David Cameron was PM.

The Gulf War

In August 1991 2hen the UK joined the US and other allies in building up forces in the Middle East as part of Operation Desert Shield, Margaret Thatcher was prime minister. But when Operation Desert Storm began, with British forces helping to push Iraq out of Kuwait, John Major had taken over.

Korean War

According to the British Legion, nearly nearly 60,000 British combat troops took part in the 1950-1953 Korean War. And 1,100 British soldiers were killed. When it began Clement Attlee was prime minister. But Winston Churchill took over again in 1951.

World War II

World War II saw Britain have three prime ministers. When the conflict began in 1939 Neville Chamberlain was leader. He was replaced by Winston Churchill in 1940. Churchill was then replaced by Clement Attlee in 1945.

World War I

The UK had two leaders during World War I. Herbert Henry Asquith was in No.10 when war broke out in 1914. He was replaced by David Lloyd George in 1916.

Of course, defenders of the PM would argue a war in Europe that risks dragging Nato into direct conflict with a nuclear armed Russia poses a much more existential threat to the UK than some of those previous conflicts.

But another factor that has bought Johnson more time in No.10 is the lack of an obvious successor for Tory MPs to turn to. Rishi Sunak had been seen as the likely next leader, but he has also been fined and has been engulfed in a row over his family’s finances.


What's Hot