United Kingdom
Deputy Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
Oliver Dowden
since 21 April 2023
Government of the United Kingdom
Cabinet Office
TypeMinister of the Crown
Member of
Reports toThe Prime Minister
ResidenceNone, may use grace and favour residences
NominatorThe Prime Minister
AppointerThe Monarch
(on the advice of the Prime Minister)
Term lengthAt His Majesty's pleasure
Formation5 July 1995
First holder

The Deputy Prime Minister of the United Kingdom is the second highest ranking minister of the Crown and a member of the British Cabinet. The title is not always in use and prime ministers have been known to appoint informal deputies without the title of deputy prime minister. The incumbent deputy prime minister is Oliver Dowden who also serves as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Secretary of State in the Cabinet Office.

Constitutional position

The position of deputy prime minister carries no salary and therefore it is necessary to appoint the holder to another position which entitles them to draw a salary under the Ministerial and other Salaries Act 1975.[1] The office is not always in use, and prime ministers may use other offices, such as First Secretary of State, to indicate the seniority. The holder of the position has no right to automatic succession.[2]

Historically there has been resistance by the monarch to appointing an individual as deputy prime minister as it might be considered to infringe upon their royal prerogative to choose a prime minister.[3] However, Rodney Brazier has more recently written that there is a strong constitutional case for every prime minister to appoint a deputy prime minister, to ensure an effective temporary transfer of power in most circumstances.[4] Similarly, Vernon Bogdanor has said that that argument holds little weight in the modern context, since the monarch no longer has any real discretion, and that, even in the past, a person acting as deputy prime minister had no real advantage to being appointed prime minister by the monarch (though this might be different within political parties in relation to their respective leaderships).[3] Like Brazier, he also says that there is a good constitutional case for recognising the office; for in the case of the death or incapacity of the incumbent prime minister.[3]

Brazier has written that there are three reasons why a deputy prime minister has been appointed: to set out the line of succession to the premiership preferred by the prime minister, to promote the efficient discharge of government business and (in the case of Labour governments) to accord recognition to the status of the deputy leader of the Labour party.[5]

When the position has been in use in the past, the deputy prime minister has deputised for the prime minister at Prime Minister's Questions.[6]


Before World War II, while a minister was occasionally invited to deputise as prime minister when the prime minister was ill or abroad, no one was styled as such when the prime minister was in the country and physically able to run the government.[7] This changed in 1942 when Clement Attlee was styled as deputy prime minister by Winston Churchill. This designation was seen as an exceptional result of a coalition and the war,[8] and Attlee's 1942 appointment was not formally approved by the King[9] [10][11] and was a matter of form rather than fact.[12] The designation was because Prime Minister Winston Churchill wanted to demonstrate the importance of the Labour party in the coalition, not for any reasons relating to succession; he actually left written advice that the King should send for Anthony Eden if he were to die, not Attlee.[1] Unusually in comparison to other unofficial deputy prime ministers, Clement Attlee was described as deputy prime minister by Hansard, whereas other unofficial deputies are described using their official position.[10]

After this, fearing a possible curtailment of the monarch's prerogative to choose a prime minister, no one was formally styled deputy prime minister (though there was often a senior minister generally regarded as such) until Michael Heseltine in 1995 was formally styled deputy prime minister. As the title of deputy prime minister did not hold any statutory authority Heseltine was also appointed as First Secretary of State.[9] John Prescott served as deputy prime minister under Tony Blair during the entirety of Blair's premiership, and remains the longest serving deputy prime minister. Prescott's statutory authority was originally drawn from his concurrent position as Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, however in 2001 this department was broken up an Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM) was also formed within the Cabinet Office.[10] To ensure he continued to hold statutory authority, he was appointed First Secretary of State. In June 2003, the ODPM became a separate department and absorbed the local government and regions portfolios from the defunct Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions. During the 5 May 2006 reshuffle of Tony Blair's government, Prescott kept his position as deputy prime minister but lost his departmental authority and OPDM was renamed the Department for Communities and Local Government and headed by Ruth Kelly. The position was vacant during Gordon Brown's premiership.

After the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats formed a coalition government in 2010, Nick Clegg was appointed deputy prime minister[13][14] under David Cameron, and served in this role until he resigned after the Conservatives won a majority in the 2015 general election. During the coalition William Hague was appointed by Cameron as First Secretary of State, the only time that both these positions have existed concurrently but not been held by the same person. During this time Cameron described Hague rather than Clegg as being his "de facto political deputy".[9] The office of deputy prime minister was vacant for the remainder of Cameron's premiership and the entirety of Theresa May's premiership.[15]

In 2020, a year before being formally styled deputy prime minister, Dominic Raab deputised for Boris Johnson while Johnson was in hospital with COVID-19, though was not formally styled deputy prime minister until September 2021. Raab served as deputy prime minister during the remainder of Johnson's premiership. Thérèse Coffey served as deputy prime minister in September and October 2022 under Liz Truss, becoming the shortest serving deputy prime minister in history. After Rishi Sunak became prime minister, he reappointed Raab as deputy prime minister,[16] making him the first non-consecutive holder of the office. Raab resigned in April 2023 after the investigation into his alleged bullying was published, and was succeeded by incumbent deputy prime minister Oliver Dowden.

Office and residence

There is no set of offices permanently ready to house the deputy prime minister.[17] Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg maintained an office at the Cabinet Office headquarters, 70 Whitehall, which is linked to 10 Downing Street.[18] Clegg's predecessor, Prescott, maintained his main office at 26 Whitehall.[19]

The prime minister may also give them the use of a grace and favour country house.[17] While in office, Nick Clegg resided at his private residence in Putney and he shared Chevening House with First Secretary William Hague as a weekend residence.[20] Clegg's predecessor, John Prescott, used Dorneywood.[17]


Nobody has the right of automatic succession to the prime ministership.[21] However, it is generally considered that in the event of the death of the prime minister, it would be appropriate to appoint an interim prime minister, though there is some debate as to how to decide who this should be.[22]

According to Brazier, there are no procedures within government to cope with the sudden death of the prime minister.[23] There is also no such title as acting prime minister of the United Kingdom.[24] Despite refusing "...to discuss a hypothetical situation" with BBC News in 2011,[25] the Cabinet Office is reported to have said in 2006:[26]

There is no single protocol setting out all of the possible implications. However, the general constitutional position is as set out below. There can be no automatic assumption about who The Queen would ask to act as caretaker Prime Minister in the event of the death of the Prime Minister. The decision is for her under the Royal Prerogative. However, there are some key guiding principles. The Queen would probably be looking for a very senior member of the Government (not necessarily a Commons Minister since this would be a short-term appointment). If there was a recognised deputy to the Prime Minister, used to acting on his behalf in his absences, this could be an important factor. Also important would be the question of who was likely to be in contention to take over long-term as Prime Minister. If the most senior member of the Government was him or herself a contender for the role of Prime Minister, it might be that The Queen would invite a slightly less senior non-contender. In these circumstances, her private secretary would probably take soundings, via the Cabinet Secretary, of members of the Cabinet, to ensure that The Queen invited someone who would be acceptable to the Cabinet to act as their chair during the caretaker period. Once the Party had elected a new leader, that person would, of course, be invited to take over as Prime Minister.

Additionally, when the prime minister is travelling, it is standard practice for a senior duty minister to be appointed who can attend to urgent business and meetings if required, though the prime minister remains in charge and updated throughout.[27]

On 6 April 2020, when Prime Minister Boris Johnson was admitted into ICU, he asked First Secretary of State Dominic Raab "to deputise for him where necessary".[28]

List of deputy prime ministers

In addition to the many unofficial deputies (see below), some people have been formally appointed deputy prime minister. Ministers are appointed by the monarch, on the advice of the prime minister.[29] Six people can be described as definitely having been appointed deputy prime minister in such a manner.[Note 1][Note 2][30][31][11][12]

Deputy prime ministers
Deputy Prime Minister Term of office Other ministerial portfolios held during tenure Party Ministry Monarch
Michael Heseltine
MP for Henley
5 July
2 May
Conservative Major II Elizabeth II

John Prescott
MP for Kingston upon Hull East
2 May
27 June
Labour Blair I
Blair II
Blair III
27 June 2007 – 11 May 2010
Nick Clegg
MP for Sheffield Hallam
11 May
8 May
Liberal Democrat Cameron–Clegg
8 May 2015 – 15 September 2021
Cameron II
May I
May II
Johnson I
Johnson II
Dominic Raab
MP for Esher and Walton
15 September
6 September
Thérèse Coffey
MP for Suffolk Coastal
6 September
25 October
Charles III

Dominic Raab
MP for Esher and Walton
25 October
21 April
Oliver Dowden
MP for Hertsmere
21 April
  1. ^ Both Brazier and Norton include Clement Attlee in their lists. However, Hennessy says that Attlee's inclusion in the 1942 minute signed off by The King simply read "Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs" and that it was on separate paper that Winston Churchill wrote "Deputy Prime Minister". Bogdanor similarly asserts that the change was in form rather than fact and that Attlee was never formally appointed deputy prime minister.
  2. ^ In his list of official deputy prime ministers, Brazier includes Geoffrey Howe. However, Norton doesn't in his. Norton explains that Buckingham Palace took issue with appointing Howe "Deputy Prime Minister" and proposed "Sir Geoffrey will act as Deputy Prime Minister". On the other hand, in a 1995 (rather than 2020) publication, Bogdanor asserts that no application to the Palace to appoint Howe deputy prime minister was made at all.


Oliver DowdenThérèse CoffeyDominic RaabNick CleggJohn PrescottMichael Heseltine

Unofficial deputies

The prime minister's second-in-command has variably served as deputy prime minister, first secretary and de facto deputy and at other times prime ministers have chosen not to select a permanent deputy at all, preferring ad hoc arrangements.[8] It has also been suggested that the office of Lord President of the Council (which comes with leading precedence) has been intermittently used for deputies in the past.[32][33]


Anthony Eden is often described as Winston Churchill's deputy, though his appointment as deputy prime minister in 1951 was actually rejected by the King.

Picking out definitive deputies to the prime minister has been described as a highly problematic task.[34]

Bogdanor, in his 1995 publication The Monarchy and the Constitution, said that the following people had acted as deputy prime ministers (by this he meant they had chaired the Cabinet in the absence of the prime minister and chaired a number of key Cabinet Committees):[35]

Clement Attlee
Herbert Morrison
Anthony Eden
Rab Butler
George Brown
Michael Stewart
Reginald Maudling
Willie Whitelaw
Geoffrey Howe

In an academic article first published in 2015, Jonathan Kirkup and Stephen Thornton used five criteria to identify deputies: gazetted or styled in Hansard as deputy prime minister; 'officially' designated deputy prime minister by the prime minister; widely recognised by their colleagues as deputy prime minister; second in the ministerial ranking; and chaired the Cabinet or took Prime Minister's Questions in the prime minister's absence.[36] They said that the following people have the best claim to the position of deputy to the prime minister:[34]

Clement Attlee
Herbert Morrison
Anthony Eden
Rab Butler
George Brown
Michael Stewart
Willie Whitelaw
Geoffrey Howe
Michael Heseltine
John Prescott
Nick Clegg

They also said that the following three people would have a reasonable claim:[34]

Bonar Law
Edward Short
Michael Foot

Brazier has listed the following ministers as unambiguously deputy to or de facto deputies of the prime minister:[37]

Clement Attlee 1940–1945
Anthony Eden 1945
Rab Butler 1955–1963
George Brown 1964–1970
Reginald Maudling 1970–1972
Willie Whitelaw 1979–1988
Geoffrey Howe 1989–1990
Michael Heseltine 1995–1997
John Prescott 1997–2007
Nick Clegg 2010–2015
George Osborne 2015–2016
Damian Green 2017
David Lidington 2018–2019
Dominic Raab 2019–2022

Lord Norton of Louth has listed the following people as serving as deputy prime minister, but not being formally styled as such:[38]

Herbert Morrison 1945–1951
Anthony Eden 1951–1955
Rab Butler 1962–1963
Willie Whitelaw 1979–1988
Geoffrey Howe 1989–1990
David Lidington 2018–2019

See also


  1. ^ a b Seldon, Meakin & Thoms 2021, p. 171.
  2. ^ Norton 2020, p. 152.
  3. ^ a b c Bogdanor 1995, p. 88.
  4. ^ Brazier 2020, p. 82-83.
  5. ^ Brazier 1988, p. 176.
  6. ^ Priddy, Sarah (19 October 2020). "Attendance of the Prime Minister at Prime Minister's Questions (PMQs) since 1979". parliament.uk. Archived from the original on 24 April 2020. Retrieved 3 June 2021.
  7. ^ Norton 2020, p. 141-142.
  8. ^ a b Norton 2020, p. 142.
  9. ^ a b c Thornton, Stephen; Kirkup, Jonathan (2023). "From Rab to Raab: The Construction of the Office of First Secretary of State". Parliamentary Affairs.
  10. ^ a b c Gay, Oonagh (2013). "The office of Deputy prime Minister" (PDF). House of Commons Library Briefing.
  11. ^ a b Hennessy 1995, p. 16.
  12. ^ a b Bogdanor 1995, p. 87.
  13. ^ "No. 59425". The London Gazette. 21 May 2010. p. 9403.
  14. ^ Government of the United Kingdom (12 May 2010). "Nick Clegg appointed Deputy Prime Minister". Retrieved 29 May 2023.
  15. ^ Norton 2020, p. 142-144.
  16. ^ Government of the United Kingdom (24 November 2022). "Ministerial Appointments: October - November 2022". Retrieved 29 May 2023.
  17. ^ a b c Brazier 2020, p. 73.
  18. ^ "Nick Clegg could be given use of stately home where John Prescott played croquet". The Telegraph. 13 May 2010. Archived from the original on 17 September 2012. Retrieved 22 May 2010.
  19. ^ "Deputy Prime Minister | Contact us". gov.uk. Archived from the original on 16 May 2010. Retrieved 22 May 2010.
  20. ^ "Hague and Clegg given timeshare of official residence". BBC News. 18 May 2010. Retrieved 22 May 2010.
  21. ^ Brazier 2020, p. 174.
  22. ^ Norton 2016, p. 34.
  23. ^ Brazier 2020, p. 84.
  24. ^ Brazier 2020, p. 68.
  25. ^ "MP urges 'line of succession' rules for prime minister". BBC News. 21 December 2011. Retrieved 6 June 2021.
  26. ^ Vennard 2008, p. 304.
  27. ^ Mason, Chris (15 August 2016). "Is Boris Johnson running the country?". BBC News. Archived from the original on 15 August 2016. Retrieved 19 March 2021.
  28. ^ "Statement from Downing Street: 6 April 2020". gov.uk. 6 April 2020. Retrieved 19 March 2021.
  29. ^ Britchfield, Colm; Devine, Dan; Durrant, Tim (8 April 2021). "Government ministers". Institute for Government. Archived from the original on 8 December 2019. Retrieved 22 July 2021.
  30. ^ Brazier 2020, p. 77.
  31. ^ Norton 2020, p. 143-144.
  32. ^ Seldon, Meakin & Thoms 2021, p. 157.
  33. ^ Norton 2020, p. 144.
  34. ^ a b c Kirkup & Thornton 2017, p. 517.
  35. ^ Bogdanor 1995, p. 87-88.
  36. ^ Kirkup & Thornton 2017, p. 495.
  37. ^ Brazier 2020, p. 80-82.
  38. ^ Norton 2020, p. 143.