Could Theresa May become caretaker prime minister?

Overseeing government following Johnson’s resignation could be ‘ultimate revenge’ for the former Tory leader

Theresa May and Boris Johnson
Johnson and May have a ‘stormy history’
(Image credit: Leon Neal / WPA Pool / Getty Images)

In the lead-up to Boris Johnson’s resignation today, what was dubbed the “best bit of leadership speculation so far” began making the rounds on Twitter.

A “well-placed” Tory source told the Daily Mail that Theresa May would be “‘uniquely placed’ to step in” as a caretaker prime minister.

As a sitting MP with more than three years’ experience as PM under her belt, May would be “better qualified than any member of the current Cabinet”, according to the paper’s source.

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“‘She knows the ropes and the security stuff, she’s a party woman through and through, she’s definitely not interested in standing for it herself and would be credible,” the insider said.

Being installed as caretaker PM would “be the ultimate revenge” for May, said Politico’s London Playbook.

As The Telegraph noted, Johnson’s resignation “puts him among the top four shortest serving British prime ministers in the postwar period”. He’s held the top job for two years and 348 days – considerably less time than the three years and 12 days served by May, with whom he has repeatedly clashed.

Indeed, the duo have a “stormy history”, Politico said back in January. Johnson left May’s cabinet in 2018 “with a broadside” at her Brexit negotiations, and she has been “a fierce critic” of his leadership and his decisions, including cutting overseas aid and his handling of Partygate.

Speculation that she might now replace him back in Downing Street has arisen with “perfect timing”, said London Playbook. May is giving a lecture today at the Institute of Government today “reflecting on the theme of public service”.

Whether May will be offered the chance to return to public service as PM remains to be seen, and Johnson has said he will quit as Tory leader but remain as prime minister over the summer.

But an unnamed Tory MP told the Daily Mail that if she were to take over, there would be an “element of epic schadenfreude to it, given he knifed her in the first place”.

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Julia O'Driscoll is the engagement editor. She covers UK and world news, as well as writing lifestyle and travel features. She regularly appears on “The Week Unwrapped” podcast, and hosted The Week's short-form documentary podcast, “The Overview”. Julia was previously the content and social media editor at sustainability consultancy Eco-Age, where she interviewed prominent voices in sustainable fashion and climate movements. She has a master's in liberal arts from Bristol University, and spent a year studying at Charles University in Prague.