The BBC reports that later today, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab will face Sir Keir Starmer in the first Prime Minister's Questions since the latter became the new Labour party leader. The Foreign Secretary is deputising for the Prime Minister as he is still recovering from COVID-19.

Usually, when either the PM or the Leader of the Opposition can't attend PMQs, their counterpart will also appoint a deputy to field or ask questions respectively. See, for example, this article from parliament.uk in 2014 which states:

When the Deputy Prime Minister takes Prime Minister's Questions, the Opposition questions are usually led by the Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, Harriet Harman.

Or, more recently, when Raab faced then Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbot:

In the battle of the deputies, it's hard to triumph - and disaster is never far away. But neither of those imposters muscled into Diane Abbott and Dominic Raab's first Parliamentary duel.

When was the last time this convention was broken, as it appears will happen today?

  • Imagine a distinction would be made between someone standing in for the PM because he is - say- abroad for a trip - and when someone is actually Acting PM with a concommitant tranfer for formal responsibility. Apr 22, 2020 at 13:59
  • 1
    @DukeBouvier perhaps, but certainly not formally - there is no formal Acting PM position.
    – CDJB
    Apr 22, 2020 at 14:20

2 Answers 2


Wikipedia's page on Prime Minister's Question Time states that:

Since 1992, a convention has been in place that if either one of the Prime Minister or Leader of the Opposition is absent, the other doesn't attend either, and thus both are stood in for. Before 1992 the deputies would often question the Prime Minister or the Leader of the Opposition question the government representative. For example, Roy Hattersley, the Deputy Leader of the Labour Party between 1983-92, stood in for Neil Kinnock facing Margaret Thatcher on 38 occasions between February 1984 and July 1990.

The page then lists occasions when deputies faced each other, but it's unclear if the list is complete.


The deputising convention was broken again in September 2020, when Sir Keir was unable to attend PMQs due to a member of his household exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19. Angela Rayner, Labour's deputy leader stood in for him at the session, facing Boris Johnson at the despatch box in another breach of this convention.

As reported by The National:

It is understood Boris Johnson will still take the session, despite the convention that the other faction nominates someone else to stand if the Prime Minister or Leader of the Opposition is absent.

Johnson’s de facto deputy Dominic Raab is currently on a visit to the US.

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