When was the last time a British Prime Minister was too ill to work?

7 April 2020, 09:50 | Updated: 7 April 2020, 12:51

By Adrian Sherling

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is in Intensive Care for coronavirus after his condition worsened yesterday. It's over 65 years since a Prime Minister was too ill to continue - here's what happened.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab will take over the Prime Minister's duties where necessary while Mr Boris Johnson is unable to continue working while he battles coronavirus.

This is a very rare event in British politics and LBC takes a look at the previous times a Prime Minister has been too ill to work.

READ MORE: How are Cabinet Decisions made while Boris Johnson is ill?

When was the last time a Prime Minister was too ill to work?

You have to go all the way back to Winston Churchill to find the last time a Prime Minister temporarily handed over duties.

In 1953, Churchill suffered his second stroke at Downing Street. Despite this - and being partially paralysed down one side -he presided over a Cabinet meeting the next morning without anybody noticing his incapacity. As he left for Chartwell to recover, the news was kept from the public and Parliament was told he was just suffering from exhaustion.

Professor John Curtice revealed: "The last time we had a Prime Minister who was sufficiently ill that they couldn't carry doing the job, you have to go back to Winston Churchill in the 1950s.

"None of us were told about it when it happened. So this is a relatively novel experience for the country."

Winston Churchill had two strokes during his time as Prime Minister
Winston Churchill had two strokes during his time as Prime Minister. Picture: PA

Was Tony Blair ever hospitalised while in power?

Tony Blair had surgery twice during his time as Prime Minister. He was admitted to hospital in October 2003 with heart concerns. He remained in hospital for nearly five hours and was sedated for 20 minutes for a procedure called a cardioversion. However, he never handed power over to his deputy John Prescott.

He returned fully to work two days later. The Foreign Secretary at the time gave a statement to the House of Commons in his place.

Prior to that, Margaret Thatcher had an hour-long eye operation to reattach the damaged retina of her right eye.

More famously, Prime Minister Anthony Eden had a long-term health problem and resigned as PM in 1957, after his doctors warned him his life was at stake if he continued in office.

Tony Blair spent five hours in hospital with heart problems
Tony Blair spent five hours in hospital with heart problems. Picture: PA

Who is in charge while Boris Johnson is in hospital?

The UK doesn't have a Deputy Prime Minister, but Mr Johnson had appointed Dominic Raab as the man who would step in where necessary to lead the government.

Institute of Government's Jill Rutter said it's important the Cabinet accept's Mr Raab's authority: "I think the really critical thing is do the other members of the Cabinet accept Dominic Raab's authority, particularly if Dominic Raab is not able to be very obviously channelling the Prime Minister.

"If there are disputes between the ministers, the big advantage of being the Prime Minister is you're the guy that hires and fires them all."

Professor Curtice suggested Mr Raab may lead the Cabinet for an extended period. He added: "I hope the Prime Minister gets better sooner rather than later, but I would suspect the advice would be that he is off work for a while, so we will need the Cabinet to adhere for some considerable time without necessarily Boris Johnson's presence."

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