Administrative and public law

Westminster update: prime minister resigns

Your weekly update from the Law Society’s public affairs team on all the latest developments and debates in Parliament and across Whitehall.

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1. Prime minister resigns

The prime minister, Boris Johnson, announced his resignation on Thursday.

This occurred after over 50 Tory MPs walked out of the government over his conduct. And a mass of backbenchers submitted votes of no confidence in his leadership.

On Wednesday night, Johnson was met by many of his most senior cabinet members. Home Secretary Priti Patel, and his new Chancellor, Nadhim Zahawi, told him to resign.

This followed a wave of ministerial resignations which saw Johnson lose around a quarter of his government.

The resignations followed the admission of the Prime Minister that he had known about allegations of inappropriate behaviour against former deputy chief whip Chris Pincher in 2019, but still appointed him in February.

He gave his resignation speech from a lectern outside 10 Downing Street. He vowed to stay as prime minister until a new Conservative party leader is elected, which may take until October.

In his speech, he indicated that a timetable for the leadership election to choose his successor will be agreed and publicised next week.

2. Cabinet resignations and reshuffles

The Prime Minister was rocked by over 50 government resignations this week, including a number of notable figures for us, such as:

  • Solicitor General Alex Chalk, and
  • Justice Ministers Victoria Atkins and James Cartlidge

Boris Johnson confirmed his intention to remain as Prime Minister while a new leader is chosen. To this end, he has made appointments to vacant Cabinet positions.

While not all roles have been filled across government, notable appointments for us include:

  • Tom Pursglove as a minister of state jointly at the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice, and
  • Edward Timpson as solicitor general

Nadhim Zahawi has been appointed as chancellor of the exchequer, and former Lord Chancellor Robert Buckland has been appointed secretary of state for Wales.

However, several MPs are calling for a caretaker prime minister to be brought in. Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has also threatened a vote of no confidence if the Conservative party do not replace him quickly.

3. Law Society gives evidence on the National Security Bill

We appeared before the Public Bill Committee examining the National Security Bill in the House of Commons on Thursday 7 July.

Dr Rich Owen, chair of our Access to Justice Committee, was questioned by MPs about the bill.

Damien Hinds (Conservative) asked:

  • about the foreign influence registration scheme the government has committed to adding to the bill, and
  • whether the Law Society has any concerns or hopes for it

Owen outlined how we supported the scheme but made clear that there should be an exemption for legal professional privilege to protect access to justice and the rule of law.

He outlined to MPs why this protection is important and why it is needed if people are to be able to access legal advice.

Owen was pressed on whether there is a risk that protections for legal professional privilege could create loopholes in the scheme.

Owen pointed to the success of the Australian model. He noted that the privilege would not apply to criminal activities. He added that the Home Office had been clear in its consultation that it would protect human rights and not interfere with legitimate activities through the scheme.

The bill will continue its committee stage in the Commons over the coming weeks.

4. Law Society quoted on Australia trade deal

We were quoted five times in an International Trade Committee report published on Wednesday 6 July as part of its inquiry into the UK’s new trade agreement with Australia.

Our response to the consultation was referenced in relation to issues ranging from legal services provisions to mobility.

The report quoted us on the importance of legal services as a business enabler, noting that:

“Nearly all international commercial transactions require the services of lawyers from two or more jurisdictions, and this can be done most effectively where foreign and domestic firms can work together.”

They also highlighted that the provisions in the Agreement withdraw UK businesspersons from Australia’s Skilled Migration Occupation List. This removed the uncertainty over visas that we had identified as a “significant difficulty to trade in legal services”.

We continue to work to improve members' access to international legal markets and to pursue opportunities to influence the UK government on issues in this area.

Coming up

We'll be working closely with MPs and peers to influence a number of bills and inquiries:

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