British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been rushed to an intensive care unit in the hospital after his coronavirus symptoms worsened, his office said in a statement Monday. It remains unclear exactly what would happen if the sitting prime minister were to pass away while in office.
Johnson, 55, was admitted to St. Thomas’ Hospital in London with “persistent symptoms” of COVID-19 on Sunday. A spokesman told the BBC he was moved on the advice of his medical team and is receiving “excellent care.”
“Since Sunday evening, the prime minister has been under the care of doctors at St Thomas’ Hospital, in London, after being admitted with persistent symptoms of coronavirus,” a statement read. “Over the course of this afternoon, the condition of the prime minister has worsened and, on the advice of his medical team, he has been moved to the intensive care unit at the hospital. The PM is receiving excellent care, and thanks all NHS staff for their hard work and dedication.”
Johnson tested positive for coronavirus ten days ago.
In early March, the prime minister told SkyNews that he had shaken hands with many people at a hospital, likely including coronavirus patients.
“I was at a hospital where there were a few #coronavirus patients and I shook hands with everybody, you will be pleased to know. And I continue to shake hands,” says Boris Johnson.
I would cancel the weekly audience if I were the Queen.
— Ragnar Weilandt (@RagnarWeilandt) March 3, 2020
It remains unclear what would happen were the prime minister to pass away while in office. Johnson has asked Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab to deputize “where necessary.”
In 2013, Tory Member of Parliament (MP) Peter Bone released an “order of succession” should a prime minister be incapacitated.
“In the event of the death or incapacitation of a person holding the title of Prime Minister and First Lord of the Treasury, the title, salary and functions of that role shall be conferred upon another Secretary of Minister of State in accordance with the following order of precedence,” the document states. According to Bone, the office would first pass to the Deputy Prime Minister, then the Secretary of State for Home Affairs, then the Secretary of State for Defense, then the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, then the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and on down the list.
As Reuters reported, Britain’s constitution is “an unwieldy collection of sometimes ancient and contradictory precedents,” and it “offers no clear, formal ‘Plan B’ or succession scenario.”
“We’ve not been in that kind of situation, we’ve not had to think about it from that point of view before,” Catherine Haddon, a senior fellow at the Institute for Government, told Reuters. Britain has no formal deputy or caretaker prime minister if Johnson should die or be forced to resign.
Since the prime minister is appointed by the queen in order to form a government out of the majority coalition of parties in Parliament, the succession would be dicey. However, since the Conservative Party has a majority (365 out of 650) — a rare occurrence in parliamentary governments — it may not prove as difficult to name a new prime minister. Johnson’s leadership has proven essential as Britain finally achieved separation from the European Union.
God willing, Queen Elizabeth II will not have to name a successor to Boris Johnson anytime soon. But if the worst should happen, it appears Johnson has chosen Dominic Raab, at least for now.
Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.