It would seem to me a distinct possibility that if the Tory membership elect a pro-Brexit ERG person as party leader, that the Queen might not call him/her to the Palace.

It is a fundamental axiom of our Constitution that the Monarch has to invite to form a government one who can command a majority. So what would happen if it was clear they couldn't?

I recollect that Theresa May said in her resignation statement that she was resigning as "party leader" on the 7th i.e. tomorrow, but that she would continue to remain PM until a new leader was in place.

So what happens if the new leader could not win a confidence vote?

2 Answers 2


There must be a Prime Minister at all times in the UK, even if in a caretaker capacity. Once Theresa May resigns, she will advise Her Majesty to appoint her successor as Conservative Party leader as Prime Minister, and she would be expected to act upon this advice.

In the event that this Prime Minister loses a vote of no confidence, then the Fixed Term Parliament Act (2011) applies. If Jeremy Corbyn is able to convince Her Majesty of his ability to form a government within two weeks of the vote of no confidence, then Her Majesty will appoint Mr. Corbyn as Prime Minister. If not, then Parliament will be dissolved and a date will be set for a general election.

If a general election is called, then the new Conservative Party leader would continue as Prime Minister in a caretaker capacity. This means that they would take necessary day-to-day decisions that need to be made, but would not be able to implement major policy changes or make long-term commitments on behalf of HM Government.

  • 1
    Ultimately, Her Majesty has to call somebody to the palace. She does, after all, need a Prime Minister. Unless she and her advisers felt that someone else was more likely to command the confidence of the House than the new Conservative leader, that is who she would have to call.
    – Joe C
    Jun 6, 2019 at 21:28
  • 3
    Re paragraph 2: whoever is appointed PM in that 2 week period has to then win a vote of confidence. In this case, Corbyn would only have to make the argument to the Queen (in reality, to the outgoing PM) that he should be given the chance to test the opinion of the Commons. Jun 6, 2019 at 22:01
  • 2
    @WS2 There is no question whatsoever that whoever wins the Conservative leadership election will be PM, for at least as long as it takes for the opposition to table a motion of no confidence. May survived a vote of confidence in the middle of the largest government defeats, why do you think any of the contenders would start out from a worse position?
    – Caleth
    Jun 7, 2019 at 20:04
  • 1
    @WS2 maybe in polls of the general public. But that's not what decides a vote of confidence. That would be a vote in the Commons, which will fall exactly along party lines. Every MP knows that if they vote against the party line they will not be re-selected by their constituency in the resulting general election.
    – Caleth
    Jun 7, 2019 at 21:39
  • 1
    @WS2 I can pretty much guarantee that TM would lose a vote of no confidence if she remained in post beyond the election of a new Conservative leader, because the Conservative MPs would vote against her as she's no longer their leader.
    – Joe C
    Jun 9, 2019 at 10:12

The only way to know for sure who can command a majority is to make them PM, and then hold a vote of no confidence (VoNC).

It is a fundamental axiom of our Constitution that the Monarch has to invite to form a government one who can command a majority. So what would happen if it was clear they couldn't?

The outgoing PM would have to advise the Queen to appoint the person who is most likely to survive a VoNC. If there is no-one who looks likely to be able to be able to survive a VoNC, there are two possible choices:

  1. In the absence of any other arrangements (e.g. a coalition agreement, or a confidence & supply arrangement), appoint the leader of the largest party. Of course, the PM and government could be brought down immediately if the Opposition were to request a VoNC, and the government then lost.

  2. Keep the previous PM in place as a caretaker, while the parties try to hammer out an agreement (this last happened in the UK in 2010, and took 5 days); and if that proves impossible, then proceed with option #1.

Note that this process is reversed in some other parliaments, in order to avoid having to guess who can survive a VoNC. For example, in Scotland:

The First Minister is nominated by the Scottish Parliament from among its members at the beginning of each term, by means of an exhaustive ballot. They are then formally appointed by the monarch.

  • @WS2 asked, "Does it have to be a party leader?": no. Going on past precedent, that's the simplest way of determining who is likely to be able to survive a VoNC. However, if there is reason to believe that another MP could achieve this, then it's possible that they could be asked. And indeed, before the emergence of formal political parties in the UK, this was how it was done. Jun 7, 2019 at 8:18
  • Is there an actual confirmation vote to ensure the new PM does command the confidence of parliament? Or is the lack of a call for a No Confidence vote seen as confirmation in itself. In other words, is demonstrating the PM commands the confidence of the house explicit or implicit?
    – Jontia
    Jun 7, 2019 at 9:18
  • @Jontia: there is no official confirmation vote, and it's up to the Opposition to call one if they want to test the PM's support. However, after a general election, and at the start of every subsequent session, there is a debate and vote on the Queen's Speech (which sets out the government's legislative programme for that session). In the past, that was treated as if it was a confidence vote. The Fixed Term Parliaments Act means that now, if the govt were to lose that vote, an actual VoNC would then need to be called by the Opposition if they wanted to bring down the govt. Jun 7, 2019 at 9:23
  • @SteveMelnikoff Presumably the first thing a new PM will have to do is to table a Queen's Speech. The test is usually whether the PM can survive the vote on the QS - otherwise known as the Gracious Speech. But the prospect of getting the poor old Queen to read speech after speech from the throne in the Lords, until one comes along which satisfies the members will be nothing but fodder for cartoonists.
    – WS2
    Jun 7, 2019 at 20:22
  • @WS2: I just checked the archives and no, if a new PM takes over without an election, there is no Queen's Speech. Or put another way: the Queen's Speech only occurs at the start of a session, as part of the State Opening of Parliament. If a new PM wants a clean slate, they would have to arrange for Parliament to be prorogued (briefly!). Jun 7, 2019 at 22:01

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .