Boris Johnson: Who will run the country while the Prime Minister is in intensive care?

6 April 2020, 22:29

Dominic Raab has been named "designated survivor" and will be taking over from Boris Johnson while he receives medical treatment
Dominic Raab has been named "designated survivor" and will be taking over from Boris Johnson while he receives medical treatment. Picture: PA

By Kate Buck

Boris Johnson has been taken to the intensive care unit of St Thomas' Hospital after being diagnosed with coronavirus, but who does that leave in charge of the country?

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab was named "designated survivor" for Mr Johnson and will now perform any duties that the Prime Minister cannot while he receives medical treatment.

Shortly after news of the Prime Minister's condition was made public, Mr Raab said: "There is an incredibly strong team spirit behind the Prime Minister and we're making sure that we get all the plans he has instructed us to deliver implemented as soon as possible."

He added Mr Johnson was in "safe hands" and has been receiving "excellent care" at St Thomas' Hospital, adding the government was focused on "making sure we can defeat coronavirus".

Although he is not the Acting Prime Minister - that is not an official job role within government - Mr Raab has now been handed Mr Johnson's duties and responsibilities while he continues to receive treatment.

Mr Johnson was taken to intensive care after his condition worsened
Mr Johnson was taken to intensive care after his condition worsened. Picture: PA

The Prime Minister has reportedly been adamant to carry on working while he battled the illness.

An unnamed minister told the press Mr Johnson was "very much still in charge" of the daily goings on while the UK continues to battle the virus.

But as his condition worsened throughout Monday afternoon, and he was taken to the ICU as a "precaution" in case he needs a ventilator to assist with his breathing.

Mr Raab is now effectively acting Prime Minister
Mr Raab is now effectively acting Prime Minister. Picture: PA

But what happens next?

The UK is now facing one of the biggest challenges this generation has known in its fight against coronavirus.

This is very much uncharted territory for the UK, which does not usually automatically appoint a Deputy Prime Minister.

In 1953, Winston Churchill suffered a stroke which was kept so secret some of his own ministers were not aware what had happened.

He surprised everyone by making a recovery and returning to chair Cabinet meetings within weeks.

And while Tony Blair was Prime Minister in the early 2000s, he twice had surgery for a heart condition and had to cut his workload for some days.

If he was incapacitated, then his then-deputy John Prescott would have been leader until there was another leadership election.

Instead of a deputy, a "First Secretary of State" can be appointed - in this case Dominic Raab - and they will temporarily take over the role "where necessary".

If neither of these roles are filled, then it is usually the Chancellor of the Exchequer who would take on the role.

Comparatively in the US, the Presidential line of succession starts with the Vice President and ends with the Secretary of Homeland Security.

The US always has a "designated survivor" who is a named individual who stays (at a secure and undisclosed location) away from events such as State of the Union addresses and presidential inaugurations.

During the Cold War, the Prime Minister would appoint what became known as a "nuclear deputy".

This person would then have the responsibilities to decide which course the country should take if the Prime Minister was uncontactable or incapacitated in anyway.

Mr Raab is the First Secretary of State
Mr Raab is the First Secretary of State. Picture: PA
Mr Raab will not need to be formally asked by the Queen to take on the role
Mr Raab will not need to be formally asked by the Queen to take on the role. Picture: PA

And as the UK is a parliamentary democracy, there is no need for there to be a snap election for someone to temporarily take the role, as long as it is someone from the same political party who has the backing of party members.

Mr Raab won't need to meet with the Queen to be formally asked to head the government for the time being - although he may have to fill in for Mr Johnson for his weekly audience with Her Majesty.

Mr Johnson has held the past few audiences with the 93-year-old Queen over the phone as she continues to self-isolate at Windsor Castle.

The Queen has been kept informed by Downing Street about the Prime Minister's condition, Buckingham Palace said.

Mr Johnson was diagnosed with the virus 11 days ago, and has continued to post videos updating the public of his condition and urging them to stay inside.

He was expected to come out of self-isolation on Friday, but said he would instead have to remain in self-isolation as some of his symptoms were persisting.

Mr Raab confirmed it was over the course of Monday afternoon that the PM's condition had deteriorated.

"Since Sunday the Prime Minister has been under the medical care of the team at St Thomas's hospital after he was admitted with persistent coronavirus symptoms," he said.

"During the course of this afternoon, the Prime Minister's condition worsened and, on the advice of the medical team, he's moved to a critical care unit.

"So in light of those circumstances, the Prime Minister asked me as First Secretary to deputise for him where necessary in driving forward the Government's plans to defeat coronavirus.

"And, as you'll know, he's been receiving excellent care at St Thomas's hospital, and we'd like to take this opportunity as a Government to thank NHS staff up and down the country for all of their dedication, hard work and commitment in treating everyone who's been affected by this awful virus."