After an unprecedented 36 hours in UK political history, Prime Minister Boris Johnson will resign today. Mr. Johnson, who less than three years ago won the Conservative Party its biggest majority since Margaret Thatcher, has ultimately been forced out by the majority of his remaining Cabinet colleagues.
Unable to withstand the pressure of the cumulative weight of the scandals heaped on his government, in the end it was an unprecedented wave of resignations, numbering some of his closest allies in politics amongst them, that convinced him that his time in Number 10 was over.
Since the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, and then Health Secretary, Sajid Javid, resigned on the evening of the 5th July, more than 50 MPs have resigned from the government - the most ever witnessed in UK politics in such a short space of time.
It will now trigger a Conservative Party leadership contest that will end with the installation of the UK’s next Prime Minister. As with the succession of Boris Johnson post Theresa May’s premiership, it is the Conservative Party once more, not the general public, that will choose the next Prime Minister. Reports suggest that Mr. Johnson wants to stay as Prime Minister until his successor is chosen, although this is yet to be confirmed.
What happens next?
Stage 1: MPs Choose Two Candidates to Put Forward to the Party
The exact requirements for an MP to be nominated to run for leader are determined by the 1922 Committee and can be altered each time there is a leadership election. We can expect a broad range of MPs to put their names in the ring, including Rishi Sunak, Liz Truss, Ben Wallace, Nadhim Zahawi, Jeremy Hunt, Sajid Javid, Penny Mordaunt, Tom Tugendhat and Steve Baker. Once the number of those running is finalised, these candidates will then be whittled down by a series of ballots. These ballots tend to take place over three to five days, with either one or multiple ballots taking place on a single day.
Stage 2: Party Members are Balloted
Once two candidates have been selected, the parliamentary party hands the management of the leadership contest to its professional staff in Conservative Campaign Headquarters (CCHQ), who administer a nationwide poll of party members. The exact timings of this ballot are established by CCHQ and the Conservative Party Chair. To complicate matters, there is currently a vacancy as Chair following Oliver Dowden’s resignation in June. The candidates usually tour the country in the period before ballots are sent out, and during the weeks that members have the opportunity to vote they will take part in a series of hustings and debates to set out their policy platform.
In any eventuality we can expect a new leader of the Party, and Prime Minister, by Conservative Party Conference in early October.
What Next for Organisations Engaging in Politics?
With today’s developments, the fragility of UK politics is likely to continue for several months. Times of uncertainty can be hard to manage in terms of engaging with the political system. Below are some guiding principles to bear in mind.
- Day-to-Day Engagement: Expect meetings to be cancelled with ministers and advisers at short notice, for the vacancies left in the government by resignations to go unfilled, and for politicians to be significantly less available than before. Patience is key, and knowing when to re-engage is paramount.
- Within Parliament: It is likely that the business of parliament will dry up to a near complete standstill. Party whips will have limited power to enforce discipline, and rebel groups, already empowered by the chaos surrounding the government for the last few months, will have the power to force significant concessions on legislation and policy. There may be some legislation which the Conservative Party agrees it should progress, but given we have a ‘lame-duck’ government, significant legislation is likely to be paused until a new leader is in place. Remember though that without a general election, or a proroguing of parliament to force a new session, the new Government will be bound by the Queen’s Speech from earlier this year, and the Johnson administration’s legislative agenda for this year. The need to engage the widest range of political stakeholders, but especially Labour and backbench Conservative MPs, has never been clearer.
- Within Government: Britain’s apolitical civil service will continue to operate. Policy development and implementation will continue, so engagement with civil servants at all levels remains vital for businesses looking to provide input into decision-making.
- Within the Conservative Party: During a leadership contest, there is an opportunity to build momentum around new policies and ideas. Engagement with a targeted group of MPs and advisers close to strong candidates could reap dividends.
- Within the Labour Party: For the first time since Sir Keir Starmer became leader, the Labour Party is involved in substantial consultations and discussions on future policy positions around a number of key issues. Timely engagement with the most influential Labour officials is increasingly important.
We are entering a period of intense, and likely prolonged, uncertainty. With no one obvious replacement the Conservative Party will indulge in a full leadership election, lasting weeks. What emerges at the end could be a government that is significantly different than the one that began this process. Policy will change, internal and national politics will be altered, and the need to understand and respond with agility to developments will be crucial.