Deputy Prime Minister of the United Kingdom

Deputy Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
Royal Coat of Arms of the United Kingdom (HM Government).svg
Official portrait of Rt Hon Dominic Raab MP.jpg
Dominic Raab

since 15 September 2021
Government of the United Kingdom
Style Deputy Prime Minister
The Right Honourable
(UK and Commonwealth)
Member of Cabinet
Privy Council
Reports to Prime Minister
Residence None, may use Grace and favour residences
Seat Westminster, London
Appointer The Monarch
on advice of the Prime Minister
Term length No fixed term
Formation 1995
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.

Constitutional position

The office of Deputy Prime Minister carries no salary[1] and its holder has no right to automatic succession.[2]

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.[3][4] 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.[5] 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).[4] 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.[4]

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.[3] 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.

When the office has been in use in the past, the Deputy Prime Minister has deputised for the Prime Minister at Prime Minister's Questions.[6]


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.[7]

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[8] and it has been said that Attlee's 1942 appointment was not formally approved by The King[9] or, similarly, a matter of form rather than fact.[10] 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.[1] Junior party leaders Lord Curzon, Bonar Law and Nick Clegg were similarly given offices in coalitions.[1]

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.[11] John Prescott in 1997 and then Clegg in 2010 were later appointed Deputy Prime Minister.[12][13]

Office and residence

There is no set of offices permanently ready to house the Deputy Prime Minister.[14] The former Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, maintained an office at the Cabinet Office headquarters, 70 Whitehall, which is linked to 10 Downing Street.[15] Clegg's predecessor, Prescott, maintained his main office at 26 Whitehall.[16]

The Prime Minister will also give them the use of a grace and favour country house.[14] 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.[17] Clegg's predecessor, John Prescott, used Dorneywood.[14]

Unofficial deputies

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.[8] 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.[18][19]


Anthony Eden is often described as Winston Churchill's deputy, though his appointment as Deputy Prime Minister in 1951 was actually rejected by The King.

Picking out definitive deputies to the Prime Minister has been described as a highly problematic task.[20]

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):[21]

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.[22] They said that the following people have the best claim to the position of deputy to the Prime Minister:[20]

Clement Attlee
Herbert Morrison
Anthony Eden
Rab Butler
George Brown
Michael Stewart
Willie Whitelaw
Geoffrey Howe
Michael Heseltine
John Prescott
Nick Clegg

They also said that the following three people would have a reasonable claim:[20]

Brazier has listed the following ministers as unambiguously deputy to or de facto deputies of the Prime Minister:[23]

Clement Attlee 1940–1945
Anthony Eden 1945
Rab Butler 1955–1963
George Brown 1964–1970
Reginald Maudling 1970–1972
Willie Whitelaw 1979–1988
Geoffrey Howe 1989–1990
Michael Heseltine 1995–1997
John Prescott 1997–2007
Nick Clegg 2010–2015
George Osborne 2015–2016
Damian Green 2017
David Lidington 2018–2019
Dominic Raab 2019–2021

Lord Norton has listed the following people as serving as deputy prime minister, but not being formally styled as such:[13]

Herbert Morrison 1945–1951
Anthony Eden 1951–1955
Rab Butler 1962–1963
Willie Whitelaw 1979–1988
Geoffrey Howe 1989–1990
David Lidington 2018–2019


Nobody has the right of automatic succession to the Prime Ministership.[24] 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.[25]

According to Brazier, there are no procedures within government to cope with the sudden death of the Prime Minister.[26] There is also no such title as Acting Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.[27] Despite refusing " discuss a hypothetical situation" with BBC News in 2011,[28] the Cabinet Office is said to have said in 2006:[29]

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.[30]

On 6 April 2020, when Prime Minister Boris Johnson was admitted into ICU, he asked First Secretary of State Dominic Raab "to deputise for him where necessary".[31]

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.[32] Only four people can be described as definitely being appointed Deputy Prime Minister in such a manner.[Note 1][Note 2][12][33][9][10]

Deputy Prime Minister
Portrait Name
Term of office Other ministerial portfolios held during tenure Party Ministry Monarch
Lord Heseltine (6969083278).jpg The Right Honourable
Michael Heseltine
MP for Henley
(born 1933)
5 July
1 May
Conservative Major II Elizabeth II
Royal Coat of Arms of the United Kingdom.svg
[12][13] [34]
John Prescott on his last day as Deputy Prime Minister, June 2007.jpg The Right Honourable
John Prescott
MP for Kingston upon Hull East
(born 1938)
2 May
28 June
Labour Blair I [12][13][35]
Blair II
Blair III
Nick Clegg by the 2009 budget cropped.jpg The Right Honourable
Nick Clegg
MP for Sheffield Hallam
(born 1967)
11 May
8 May
Liberal Democrat Cameron–Clegg [12][13][36]
Official portrait of Rt Hon Dominic Raab MP crop 2.jpg The Right Honourable
Dominic Raab
MP for Esher and Walton
(born 1974)
15 September
Conservative Johnson II [12][13][37]


Dominic RaabNick CleggJohn PrescottMichael Heseltine

See also