How Is the British Prime Minister Elected?

LONDON, ENGLAND – SEPTEMBER 07: British Prime Minister Liz Truss holds her first cabinet meeting after taking office at Downing Street on September 07, 2022 in London, England. The Prime Minister Liz Truss has appointed her cabinet after being invited to form a government by HM Queen Elizabeth. Photo Courtesy: Jeremy Selwyn – Pool/Getty Images

In the United Kingdom, the head of government is known as the prime minister. The prime minister chairs the Cabinet and appoints its ministers. The prime minister is also, by virtue of the office, First Lord of the Treasury, Minister for the Civil Service, and the minister in charge of national security. 

The current prime minister is Liz Truss, who was appointed by Queen Elizabeth II on September 6, 2022, to succeed the previous prime minister, Boris Johnson. This article will examine the process by which a British prime minister is selected.

How Is the New British Prime Minister Selected?

British prime ministers are not directly elected. They are officially appointed by the monarch after the general election. However, this is somewhat of a constitutional formality, since the leader of the party that secures the most seats in the House of Commons automatically becomes prime minister and subsequently forms the government. In the past, the monarch had the power to appoint or dismiss prime ministers at will, with the last such occasion occurring in 1834. But changes to the constitution since then, as well as unwritten customs and traditions, make clear that the monarch should not be involved with party politics. By appointing the prime minister, the monarch is effectively delegating many executive powers – defined in British constitutional law as royal prerogatives – to the prime minister for the duration of their term. The monarch remains the head of state but, for all practical purposes, the prime minister is the head of government.

In order for an individual to become prime minister, they must first be a member of Parliament – specifically the House of Commons. Parliamentary elections take place at the local level. To become a member of the House of Commons, the candidate must secure more votes than their rivals in their locality. If any party secures a majority following the general election, the monarch appoints its respective leader to become prime minister and form a cabinet. (Party leaders are elected by parliament members of their own party.) If the party leader agrees to the post, they assume the role immediately. The prime minister, the Cabinet, and Parliament make up the executive and legislative branches of British government, with the monarch (sometimes referred to as “the Crown”) serving a largely symbolic role as the head of state.

If no one party secures a majority in the House of Commons, the largest single party could form a minority government or partner with other parties to form a coalition. The largest single party can also reach an informal agreement with an opposing party to create a sustainable government. In most situations, the party that has the most seats would attempt to partner and form a coalition with the second-largest party. Britain’s electoral system favors the two largest parties, which are known as the Labour and Conservative parties, and most prime ministers are appointed from their ranks.

Who Is the Current British Prime Minister?

LONDON, ENGLAND – JULY 05: Liz Truss, UK foreign secretary leaves Downing Street after the weekly cabinet meeting on July 05, 2022 in London, England. Photo Courtesy: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

The current prime minister, Liz Truss, is a member of the Conservative Party. She was first elected to parliament in 2010 and held various Cabinet positions under previous prime ministers David Cameron, Theresa May, and Boris Johnson. When, on July 7, 2022, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced he would resign following a number of scandals and controversies, Truss announced that she would run for leadership of the Conservative Party. Voting took place between July 13 and September 2. On September 5, it was declared that Liz Truss beat out seven other candidates to win leadership of the Conservative Party, winning 57.4% of the Members’ vote. On September 6, 2022, she assumed the premiership as prime minister.