What Can Boris Johnson Do Before He Leaves No.10?

It remains to be seen whether the prime minister will abide by convention before stepping down on September 6.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson
Prime Minister Boris Johnson
Dominic Lipinski via PA Wire/PA Images

Boris Johnson confirmed last Thursday that he would be resigning from No.10 after less than one whole term as prime minister.

Even though he was effectively forced to quit after more than 50 Tory MPs quit his government within 48 hours, he has refused to step aside and let a caretaker prime minister govern in his place.

Instead, Johnson is insisting that he will remain in No.10 until the Conservative Party elects his successor, even amid calls for him to step down immediately.

Former Tory prime minister John Major claimed for Johnson to remain in power and control over the four nations of the UK is of great concern, especially as he was not hemmed in by his cabinet during his time in office.

“His previous cabinet did not – or could not – do so,” Major concluded.

Johnson’s last day is set to be September 6, but, as a prime minister known for acting against convention, just what could he do with his remaining time in office?

What can an outgoing PM do?

Well, there’s technically nothing actually stopping Johnson from acting in the way he was prior to his resignation, apart from convention.

He has already appointed new ministers following the mass ministerial exodus seen last week, as he needed a functioning government to avoid a snap general election.

He can also endorse a successor, although he has so far refrained from doing so.

What can they not do?

The Institute For Government director Bronwen Maddox noted that protocol should stop the prime minister from stepping out of line.

“Johnson also needs to accept that he cannot do much in these months – and nothing that is contentious.”

She predicted: “Much of the vast and sprawling programme in the recent Queen’s Speech will now need to pause until a new leader is picked, particularly the controversial elements such as Channel 4 privatisation and probably human rights reform.”

Controversial legislation linked to the Northern Ireland protocol, she suggested would be paralysed for now, as the EU “will not bother to give one more breath of negotiating time to Johnson”.

He won’t be able to stand in the leadership contest that selects his successor, although he will be able to stand in any after that, much like how Theresa May would technically be able to stand again in the current contest.

What has No.10 said he’ll do?

Johnson’s official spokesperson has suggested that he has no plan to step out of line in the coming months.

They said: “The prime minister is acting in line with convention.

“He remains prime minister until a new party leader is in place and the work of government will continue while that takes place.”

Johnson has pledged that the government will not make any major decisions for his remaining time in office, and will leave major tax and spending decision to the next prime minister.

His spokesperson also said that the government “won’t seek to make any large fiscal changes, nor will it seek to unpick previously agreed policy”.

“It’s not that the government cannot continue to deal with challenging or long-standing issues; it is simply the convention to stick with delivering on pre-agreed policies.”

Are there any signs he might deviate from convention?

The outgoing prime minister was known for stepping away from precedent, and it’s one of the main gripes from the Tory MPs who abandoned him last week.

In May, Johnson rewrote parts of the ministerial code (which lays out the standards in government for every minister to abide). This was before he was expected to face the parliamentary standards committee over potentially misleading parliament over partygate.

He was also fined for breaching lockdown rules by the police, and went through two ethics advisers during his time in office and may not appoint another before he leaves.

Johnson then sent confusing messages about whether he would even go to next week’s PMQs, suggesting: “The next leader of this party might be elected by acclimation so it’s possible this will be our last confrontation over this, it’s possible.”

One of the last ministers to quit before Johnson, George Freeman, pointed to Johnson’s resignation speech as well, and said it did not suggest he would see out his time with “quiet humility and contrition”.

In that speech, he blamed “herd mentality” and the “eccentric” decision of the parliamentary Conservative Party to boot him out.


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