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Is The Queen about to appoint a backbench MP as Prime Minister?


Chris McAndrew / UK Parliament

Charlie Proctor explains why The Queen could soon be appointing her 15th Prime Minister, and it might not be one of the usual suspects.

Boris Johnson has only been Prime Minister of the United Kingdom for two weeks, and in that time he has already broken a political record, not that it is an accolade he wanted to achieve. After only 11 days in office, the new PM lost a by-election faster than any Prime Minister in history, beating H.H. Asquith’s previous record in 1908 (16 days). Unfortunately for Mr Johnson, this might not be the only Prime Ministerial record he is in danger of breaking. It the precarious political climate, it is looking like a strong possibility Mr Johnson could become Britain’s shortest-serving Prime Minister ever, taking the title from current holder George Canning who was only in office for 119 days.

The Conservative party led by Mr Johnson currently only has a parliamentary majority of just one MPs, this arithmetic already takes into account the confidence and supply arrangement entered with the Democratic Unionist Party. With such a slim majority it would be unimaginable for Mr Johnson to still be Prime Minister in a few months time without calling and winning a General Election.

But whether or not Mr Johnson triggers a General Election is immaterial at this moment in time. Britain’s scheduled departure from the European Union has thrown the political rulebook and conventions out of the window, with normally loyal MPs rebelling against their own party whips, some even resigning, in order to try and prevent the United Kingdom leaving the EU with no-deal.

A way in which MPs could oust Mr Johnson and delay Brexit from occurring is to form a government of national unity. This type of government is only formed in a national emergency, such as during the Second World War when Conservative MP Winston Churchill was Prime Minister and Labour MP Clement Attlee was Deputy PM. Some would argue that the UK is currently in a national crisis, and if 320 MPs are in agreement, The Queen could appoint a backbench MP as Prime Minister to lead a new unified government.

But who could lead a government of national unity? I think it is incredibly unlikely to be a party leader such as Boris Johnson or Jeremy Corbyn. They aren’t able to unify their parties, never mind gain a cross-party majority in the House of Commons. Other figures have also been suggested as potential next Prime Ministers including Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson and Green Party MP Caroline Lucas.

There are plenty of backbench MPs in the Conservative Party and Labour Party who would perhaps like a shot at becoming Her Majesty’s 15th Prime Minister. Labour’s Hilary Benn and Yvette Cooper would likely gain plenty of support from MPs. On the other side of the house, Dominic Grieve and Sir Oliver Letwin have the potential to become unity PM.

However, I don’t think any of the above names can legitimately form a government of national unity. They are all MPs from political parties – what is truly needed is a Prime Minister who is independent from the shackles of a political party, a free thinker, somebody who doesn’t lean to the left or the right, but merely want to steer Britain to its next destination.

Of course, there are plenty of independent MPs in the House of Commons. From Heidi Allen to Ian Austin, there are more independent MPs sitting on the green benches now than there have been in many years. But all of these MPs have only recently turned independent, having resigned from their parties after being elected in the 2017 general election. All of them but one that is.

Sylvia, Lady Hermon is a Northern Irish politician who was elected as an Independent Member of Parliament in the 2017 General Election – the only person to have done so. Although she was a member of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) a decade ago, Lady Hermon is probably the one truly independent MP who could, in theory, reach out to the House of Commons to form a majority. The MP for North Down is currently 250/1 on the betting markets to become the next Prime Minister. I’m not a betting person, but those odds do seem tempting for the reasons I outline below.

Charlie Proctor says Sylvia Hermon could be the unity Prime Minister the UK needs (Photo: Chris McAndrew)

Lady Hermon is fiercely independent. She is anti-Jeremy Corbyn and resigned from the UUP in 2010 after they linked-up with the Conservative Party. Readers may be wondering why on earth Labour and Conservative MPs might rally behind her then if she is a vocal critic of both their leaders. The answer is simple: she is neutral, and there is only one of her. As such, there is no chance she will be able to form a coalition or a pact with a political party following the next general election, so she is in little danger of completly rebalancing the political landscape.

Unlike any other unity PM candidate, Lady Hermon also represents a Northern Irish constituency. This means the main Westminster political parties are in no danger of gaining her seat, and likewise, she is not going to threaten the political parties’ seats elsewhere.

Realistically, the chances of The Queen appointing a unity Prime Minister is slim. That being said, as we edge closer and closer to Brexit day, a large proportion of MPs will do whatever it takes to prevent leaving the EU without a deal, even if that means a cross-party union being formed.