I was reading another question and it got me thinking:

  • Are ministers protected by laws against unfair dismissal?
  • Under what circumstances can the PM 'sack' members of their cabinet?
  • What happens to a minister once they have been 'sacked'?
  • Is 'sacking' a minister even the same thing as a business dismissing an employee, or is it an entirely different thing all together?

Which can hopefully all be summed up with the question:

"How does a British Prime Minister 'sack' ministers?"


3 Answers 3


In all cases that I can think of, the minister is told to resign, and they do so. Even in cases when it is clear to everyone that the Minister has been fired, it is presented as a resignation1. Consider the sacking of Damien Green. He writes:

I regret that I've been asked to resign from the Government following breaches of the Ministerial Code, for which I apologise. It has been a privilege to serve ...

and May replies

It is therefore with deep regret, and enduring gratitude for the contribution you have made over many years, that I asked you to resign from the Government and have accepted your resignation.

It's not clear if a minister would have even theoretical recourse to an industrial tribunal (*edit as Will notes in another answer, they don't) , as appointments are made (in theory) by the Queen, rather than by a contract between an organisation and an employee. In practice, all ministers know that they can be fired without notice. There is no protection from unfair dismissal that a normal employee would have.

A Prime Minister can remove a minister for any reason or for none. In the occasional "reshuffles" a Prime Minister may decide that they just want "new blood" and ministers can get axed without warning. Generally, ministers get sacked for breaching the Ministerial Code, or for bringing the government into disrepute. If you're not winning support for the Government, you may not last long in your post.

As a ministerial position is a paid position, ministers who resign or are reshuffled do receive severance pay, as are ministers who lose their position following an election.

After a minister has been sacked, they remain an MP and thus continue as a backbench member of parliament until the next election. If a Minister has done something wrong, they may also be ejected from their parliamentary party (called "having the whip removed") but would still be an independent MP and cannot stand as a member of their (former) party at the next election.

Originally MPs couldn't resign (having been elected, not appointed) but there is a procedure in which an MP is "appointed as Steward and Bailiff of the Three Hundreds of Chiltern" (or another similar post) which is a Crown office with no responsibilities. Since MPs cannot hold Crown offices, being appointed to the Chiltern Hundreds effects the MP's dismissal from Parliament.

1 The sacking of Gavin Williamson is an exception to this. The PM told to leave the government. His response clearly denies any wrongdoing. This is an unambiguous example of a sacking, which has not been presented as a resignation. The exceptional nature of the case is an example of the exceptional state of British Politics in 2019

  • 10
    Note that "sacked" ministers do receive severance pay. Commented Jul 4, 2018 at 8:32
  • 6
    I think that "having the whip removed" only removes the MP from the parliamentary party; they would remain a member of the broader political party unless ejected by the party according to whatever rules the party has. Commented Jul 4, 2018 at 12:14
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    Re resignation as an MP: there is a second office which is also used as a mechanism for resignation. The Wikipedia article on the subject covers the whole matter quite comprehensively. Commented Jul 4, 2018 at 12:29
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    @SteveMelnikoff And, in particular, successive MPS who wish to retire are appointed to the Chiltern Hundreds and the Manor of Northstead in alternation. Commented Jul 4, 2018 at 13:16
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    The other thing worth noting is that the technical inability to resign is an added feature, not a bug, having been introduced (by parliament itself in 1624) at a time when the position was considerably more onerous and less powerful than it is today.
    – origimbo
    Commented Jul 4, 2018 at 19:06

Legally, the status of ministers, as for other MPs, up until their resignation or "sacking", is that of an Office holder, which is separate from that of an employee. As such, the employment rights enjoyed by employees are not conferred to MPs by the same legislation.

If parliamentary office were employment, being sacked as a minister would really be a demotion. Most ministerial sackings could quite convincingly be justified on performance grounds, which could equally be allowed for in an employment contract. As has been pointed out in the comments, it has nevertheless been known for severance pay to be granted, which as in employment is an easy way to defuse any possible challenge to the decision even if the PM (or, constitutionally, the monarch) had the right to make it.

I don't know if there is any formal equivalent of the protections for employees against explicitly unfair dismissal/demotion, such as on grounds of race or gender, but clearly there are serious electoral pressures against any action of that sort; like so much of the UK's constitution, what is permissible on paper is pretty much a moot point.

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    Good find on the MP contract of employment. I suspected that they weren't "employees" but couldn't find that source.
    – James K
    Commented Jul 4, 2018 at 18:07

Yes, the prime minster has the power to sack anyone in his/her government only. This includes cabinet minsters, but they are asked to resign from the government, if that minster refuses to do so, then the prime minster will sack that person from the government, but they are asked to resign first.

An example of this would be Gavin Williamson. On 1 May 2019, Williamson was asked to resign from his position as Defence Secretary, following the leaking of confidential information relating to a National Security Council meeting. He refused to resign and was then sacked.

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