In keeping up to date on Brexit, Dominic Cummings, Special Advisor to Boris Johnson - UK Prime Minister - has stated that, in the event that a motion of no confidence has passed the House of Commons, Johnson could ignore a motion of no confidence, even if an alliance, holding the majority in the Commons, was formed:

Cummings is said to have told advisers that Johnson would ignore the result of the confidence vote and call a “people v politicians” general election – to be held after Britain had left the EU.


To my mind, the Fixed-term Parliaments Act of 2011 doesn't make provisions for a now defunct Ministry to pick a time a General Election is to be held without the express consent of the Commons. However, as stated be Cummings, the current Ministry intends to attempt to do just that while not recognizing the formation of a new Government, if a new Government had been formed:

Cummings, the former campaign director of Vote Leave, is understood to have told government advisers last week that Johnson could stay on as prime minister even if rebel Tory MPs were able to form a “government of national unity” opposed to a no-deal Brexit.

My interest is not in the legality of whether they could do such a thing, but, in the event Her Majesty is brought in to resolve the issue, what does Her Majesty's Prerogative allow in the such an event where the previous Ministry (the Ministry that lost the no confidence vote) ignores both the no confidence vote and the guidelines pursuant to the Fixed-terms Parliament Act while a formal alliance holding a majority in the Commons is presented to Her Majesty?

And second to that, does Her Majesty hold the power to order the Police, Army, or even the Grenadier guards to arrest the individuals making up the defunct Ministry in order to allow the new alliance to form a Government?

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    "The Queen has a veto. The Queen has at most one veto." Aug 7, 2019 at 16:51
  • @MartinSchröder Would you elaborate on that, please? Aug 7, 2019 at 16:55
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    @DukeJakeMorgan If the monarch actually used the veto to meddle in daily politics (like canceling A50), the UK would become a republic very fast. Aug 7, 2019 at 19:12
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    @DJClayworth I know, however at least one company serves as a guard for Her Majesty. I was wondering whether Her Majesty would have the power to order the company guarding the Queen to arrest those making up the defunct Ministry if the Johnson Ministry and the Monarchy come head to head if a Johnson Ministry defied a no confidence vote. Aug 7, 2019 at 19:27
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3 Answers 3


Her Majesty is obliged to appoint as Prime Minister the person who she feels is most likely to command the confidence of the House of Commons.

If Boris Johnson loses a vote of no confidence (as set out under the Fixed Term Parliament Act), and another leader is able to convince Her Majesty that he is more likely to be able to get the confidence of the Commons within that two week period, then Her Majesty would be within her rights to sack Mr. Johnson and appoint this other person as Prime Minister. While the sacking of a Prime Minister has not been done in the UK (at least not in modern history), it was done in Australia in 1975, in what became known as The Dismissal.

After this two-week period, the election must be held, but as the Fixed Term Parliament Act does not specify precisely when said election must be held, it is up to Her Majesty on the advice of the Prime Minister. It would be expected that there would be a short wash-up period to get some essential business through (though said business would require support from the opposition), and then Parliament would get dissolved five weeks before the election.

  • I believe that if another PM can command the confidence of the house before the two weeks is up (after the PMs no-confidence loss) then an election is not necessary. Oct 1, 2019 at 21:17
  • @DJClayworth That's correct; if a new government can be formed in the two weeks then they can simply take over. Also, the Queen is obliged to appoint whoever she feels can best command the confidence of the House, and this is generally determined by the vote of confidence, but the power is more nuanced than that. In 1963 she "invited" Alec Douglas-Home to see if he could form a government, because the previous Prime Minister advised her that he would be a good choice. As I understand it, she technically didn't appoint him, but in effect, he was her choice. Nov 1, 2019 at 11:08

Her Majesty can appoint whomever as Prime Minister. By convention, that is on the recommendation of the outgoing PM, but the recommendation is not required.

Having been appointed, the Prime Minister can organise their Cabinet however they desire, re-arrange the Civil Service, etc.

Johnson barricading himself in Downing Street would be a futile gesture, (presumably) Corbyn could govern from some other building.

  • "Her Majesty can appoint whomever as Prime Minister". I'm confused on that, is there a reference you can give supporting that statement? As far as I know, not implying that I am right nor wrong, Her Majesty cannot appoint someone who isn't 1) retaining the majority in the House of Commons and 2) hasn't been presented as a credible candidacy for the Premiership? Aug 7, 2019 at 17:05
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    @DukeJakeMorgan She chooses to only appoint the leader of the party (or coalition) that has a commons majority
    – Caleth
    Aug 7, 2019 at 21:18
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    @Caleth: don't underestimate the power of convention in the UK constitution. In theory the Queen is free to appoint whoever she wants. In practice, the convention is that she appoints whoever is most likely to survive or command the confidence of the Commons, on the advice of the outgoing PM. If the Queen were to defy convention (on this, or any other matter), a constitutional crisis could ensue. Aug 8, 2019 at 7:37
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    @SteveMelnikoff A PM not resigning when their government falls is a constitutional crisis already
    – Caleth
    Aug 8, 2019 at 8:12
  • @Caleth: I've heard other commentators say similar, but it's not strictly true. If you look, for example, at the last time a government lost a VoNC, in 1979, the PM had a choice: resign, or hold an election. He chose the latter. The FPTA adds a 14-day grace period, but in theory, the PM still has the same choice. Of course, his legal options and his political options may not coincide! Aug 8, 2019 at 8:20

Background: (1) The Army is under Prerogative control; (2) dissolving Parliament is not under the Prerogative.

In practice, Crown prerogative is under the control of Ministers. I have not been able to find good references for the last personal use of the Prerogative in conflict with Parliamentary government. The last time Royal Assent was refused was 1708, apparently.

It is not clear constitutionally what happens if someone simply refuses to comply with convention surrounding elections and confidence votes. The Army have substantial personal loyalty to the Queen, but I think are also aware that moving against elected representatives would be a coup and disastrous for them if they lost the support of the public.

All sorts of horrendous possibilities of government collapse have been prevented in Britain only by a desire of those involved to be Good Chaps and be seen to be fair, but at the same time parts of the UK (Northern Ireland) were effectively under tanks-in-the-street martial law for thirty years of the 20th century. There isn't anything other than public opinion and decency stopping the Government from designating the Opposition as a proscribed organisation and having them jailed, for example - as has been done in Catalonia.

  • Jailing the opposition? That's overlooking the independence of the judiciary, which I'd say is a bit stronger in the UK than in Spain. But the chief problem here is that it fails to answer the core question, namely which side the Queen can take in a dispute between Parliament and her Ministers.
    – MSalters
    Aug 9, 2019 at 7:03

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