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Deputy Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
|Deputy Prime Minister of the United Kingdom|
|Government of the United Kingdom|
|Style||Deputy Prime Minister
The Right Honourable
(UK and Commonwealth)
|Reports to||Prime Minister|
|Residence||None, may use Grace and favour residences|
on advice of the Prime Minister
|Term length||No fixed term|
|First holder||Michael Heseltine|
Deputy Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (DPM) is an office sometimes held by a minister in the Government of the United Kingdom.
The office is not always in use and Prime Ministers may use other offices, such as First Secretary of State, to give seniority to a particular cabinet minister. The office is currently held by Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor, Dominic Raab since 15 September 2021, who served as First Secretary for 2 years prior.
One classical argument made against appointing a minister to the office is that it might restrict the monarch's royal prerogative to choose a Prime Minister. However, Rodney Brazier has more recently written that there is a strong constitutional case for every Prime Minister to appoint a Deputy Prime Minister, to ensure an effective temporary transfer of power in most circumstances. Similarly, Vernon Bogdanor has said that that argument holds little weight in the modern context, since the monarch no longer has any real discretion, and that, even in the past, a person acting as Deputy Prime Minister had no real advantage to being appointed Prime Minister by the monarch (though this might be different within political parties in relation to their respective leaderships). Like Brazier, he also says that there is a good constitutional case for recognising the office; for in the case of the death or incapacity of the incumbent Prime Minister.
Brazier has written that there are three reasons why a Deputy Prime Minister has been appointed: to set out the line of succession to the premiership preferred by the Prime Minister, to promote the efficient discharge of government business and (in the case of Labour governments) to accord recognition to the status of the deputy leader of the Labour party. In addition, the junior party leader in a coalition government is often appointed Deputy Prime Minister, as was the case for Nick Clegg in the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government of 2010-2015.
Before World War II, a minister was occasionally invited to act as deputy prime minister when the Prime Minister was ill or abroad, but no one was styled as such when the Prime Minister was in the country and physically able to run the government.
This changed in 1942 when Clement Attlee was appointed Deputy Prime Minister, though such a designation was seen as an exceptional result of a coalition and the war and it has been said that Attlee's 1942 appointment was not formally approved by The King or, similarly, a matter of form rather than fact. The designation was because Prime Minister Winston Churchill wanted to demonstrate the importance of the Labour party in the coalition, not for any reasons relating to succession; he actually left written advice that the King should send for Anthony Eden if he were to die, not Attlee. Junior party leaders Lord Curzon, Bonar Law and Nick Clegg were similarly given offices in coalitions.
After this, fearing a possible curtailment of the monarch's prerogative to choose a Prime Minister, no one was formally styled Deputy Prime Minister (though there was often a senior minister generally regarded as such) until Michael Heseltine in 1995. John Prescott in 1997 and then Clegg in 2010 were later appointed Deputy Prime Minister.
Office and residence
There is no set of offices permanently ready to house the Deputy Prime Minister. The former Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, maintained an office at the Cabinet Office headquarters, 70 Whitehall, which is linked to 10 Downing Street. Clegg's predecessor, Prescott, maintained his main office at 26 Whitehall.
The Prime Minister will also give them the use of a grace and favour country house. While in office, Nick Clegg resided at his private residence in Putney and he shared Chevening House with First Secretary William Hague as a weekend residence. Clegg's predecessor, John Prescott, used Dorneywood.
The Prime Minister's second-in-command has variably served as Deputy Prime Minister, First Secretary and de facto deputy and at other times Prime Ministers have chosen not to select a permanent deputy at all, preferring ad hoc arrangements. It has also been suggested that the office of Lord President of the Council (which comes with leading precedence) has been intermittently used for deputies in the past.
Picking out definitive deputies to the Prime Minister has been described as a highly problematic task.
Bogdanor, in his 1995 publication The Monarchy and the Constitution, said that the following people had acted as deputy prime ministers (by this he meant they had chaired the Cabinet in the absence of the Prime Minister and chaired a number of key Cabinet Committees):
In an academic article first published in 2015, Jonathan Kirkup and Stephen Thornton used a five-point criteria to try and identify deputies: gazetted or styled in Hansard as Deputy Prime Minister, 'officially' designated Deputy Prime Minister by the Prime Minister, widely recognised by their colleagues as Deputy Prime Minister, second in the ministerial ranking and chaired the Cabinet or took Prime Minister's Questions in the Prime Minister's absence. They said that the following people have the best claim to the position of deputy to the Prime Minister:
They also said that the following three people would have a reasonable claim:
Nobody has the right of automatic succession to the Prime Ministership. However, it is generally considered by those with an interest in the matter that in the event of the death of the Prime Minister, it would be appropriate to appoint an interim Prime Minister, though there is some debate as to how to decide who this should be.
According to Brazier, there are no procedures within government to cope with the sudden death of the Prime Minister. There is also no such title as Acting Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. Despite refusing "...to discuss a hypothetical situation" with BBC News in 2011, the Cabinet Office is said to have said in 2006:
There is no single protocol setting out all of the possible implications. However, the general constitutional position is as set out below. There can be no automatic assumption about who The Queen would ask to act as caretaker Prime Minister in the event of the death of the Prime Minister. The decision is for her under the Royal Prerogative. However, there are some key guiding principles. The Queen would probably be looking for a very senior member of the Government (not necessarily a Commons Minister since this would be a short-term appointment). If there was a recognised deputy to the Prime Minister, used to acting on his behalf in his absences, this could be an important factor. Also important would be the question of who was likely to be in contention to take over long-term as Prime Minister. If the most senior member of the Government was him or herself a contender for the role of Prime Minister, it might be that The Queen would invite a slightly less senior non-contender. In these circumstances, her private secretary would probably take soundings, via the Cabinet Secretary, of members of the Cabinet, to ensure that The Queen invited someone who would be acceptable to the Cabinet to act as their chair during the caretaker period. Once the Party had elected a new leader, that person would, of course, be invited to take over as Prime Minister.
Additionally, when the Prime Minister is travelling, it is standard practice for a senior duty minister to be appointed who can attend to urgent business and meetings if required, though the Prime Minister remains in charge and updated throughout.
List of Deputy Prime Ministers
Contrary to the above list of unofficial deputies, only very few people have actually been formally appointed Deputy Prime Minister. Ministers are appointed by the monarch, on the advice of the Prime Minister. Only four people can be described as definitely being appointed Deputy Prime Minister in such a manner.[Note 1][Note 2]
|Term of office||Other ministerial portfolios held during tenure||Party||Ministry||Monarch
|The Right Honourable
MP for Henley
|Conservative||Major II||Elizabeth II
|The Right Honourable
MP for Kingston upon Hull East
|The Right Honourable
MP for Sheffield Hallam
|The Right Honourable
MP for Esher and Walton
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