What is a Caretaker Prime Minister, and Is It a Possibility?

caretakerAnyone that follows football will have heard of the notion of the caretaker manager.

This is the occasionally hapless soul that is given the reigns of the tea temporarily immediately after the former manager is sacked. While the chairman and his associates seek a new man, the caretaker simply treads water with no idea as to what their future holds.

On occasion, however, they come in and transform the whole feel of the place, getting positive results an eventually being appointed full-time manager themselves.

Transposing that to the world of UK politics, the notion of a caretaker prime minister sounds a bit ridiculous.

But actually, there is a precedent for it, and arguably – in the not too distant future – there may be just be a case for it as well.

Boris Johnson is seemingly hellbent on pursuing a No Deal Brexit – his mandate is to deliver Brexit, in whatever form, after all, and there are plenty that are in opposition to that.

There are two scenarios, both fairly unlikely but hey: this is UK politics, that could unfold.

The Vote of No Confidence


One episode that could unfold is that Johnson presses on with the No Deal despite pressure from a cross-party consensus not to.

In that eventuality, Labour and Jeremy Corbyn have already stated that they will file a vote of no confidence in the prime minister.

If that vote failed, then Boris would get his wish: and we would be plunged into the uncertainty of leaving the EU without any form of trade agreement with anybody else.

But if the vote passes, all manner of scenarios could kick off, including a snap general election, in which Labour would campaign for a second referendum to allow people to vote to stay in the European Union.

How Would a Caretaker Prime Minister Work?

Corbyn, somehow, also wants to be appointed as the caretaker prime minister in order to strike a deal with EU big cheeses.

So, if his vote of no confidence in the present government is approved by his fellow minister, he would be appointed as a temporary caretaker while looking to extend Article 50.

That would delay Brexit even further beyond the October 31 deadline, but would allow for a general election to take place.

Has There Ever Been a Caretaker Prime Minister Before?

Army TankSort of, but not really.

During the Second World War, the UK was governed by a coalition which included Winston Churchill.

As the war came to an end, Churchill resigned in order to force a general election (he had just ‘won the war’ after all) and the Labour and Liberal Democrat ministers quit the coalition to prepare for the election.

So, King George VI invited Churchill to remain in caretaker charge until the election formalities had been completed.

In a huge surprise, Labour – led by Clement Atlee – won a landslide victory, and so Churchill was deposed as the caretaker PM.

What are the Chances of it Happening?

This is classic cross-party politicking, of course, and it’s unlikely that the plan will secure much Tory support barring the odd rebel such as Dominic Grieve and Sir Oliver Letwin.

But if all other parties club together….well, it certainly becomes a possibility.

In a blow to Corbyn’s designs on power, however, it just might not be him filling the caretaker’s shoes.

Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson has given her thumbs up to the idea of a caretaker prime minister – she just doesn’t fancy the Labour man for the job.

She has called Corbyn ‘divisive’, and would not support his plan.

Instead, the Lib Dems are open to cross-party discussions of how to stop a No Deal Brexit, Swinson has said, and that her fellow MPs needed to ‘stand up and be counted’ in order to stop the UK leaving the EU without a deal. She nominated either the Tory MP Ken Clarke or Harriet Harman of Labour as more appropriate caretakers.

That said, Corbyn might get a semblance of support for the Scottish National Party. Nicola Sturgeon said her party was willing to ‘work with anybody at Westminster to try to avert the catastrophe of a No Deal Brexit.’