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The Role of the Prime Minister

The Prime Minister is head of the UK Government and is ultimately responsible for the policy and decisions of the government.

As head of the UK government the Prime Minister also:

• oversees the Civil Service operation and government agencies

• appoints members of the government

• is the principal government figure in the House of Commons

Minister for the Civil Service

The Minister for the Civil Service is responsible for regulating the Civil Service. The Civil Service (Management Functions) Act of 1992 allows the Minister for the Civil Service to delegate power to other ministers and devolved administrations.

This role was created in 1968 and is always held by the Prime Minister.

First Lord of the Treasury

The First Lord of the Treasury is one of the Lords Commissioners of the Treasury. This role is usually held by the Prime Minister.

Since the 17th century, the Lords Commissioners of the Treasury have collectively carried out duties that were previously held by the Lord High Treasurer (head of Her Majesty’s Treasury).

The Lords Commissioners of the Treasury also include:

• The Second Lord of the Treasury – the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who has most of the functional financial responsibilities

• Junior Lords Commissioners of the Treasury - other members of the government, usually government whips in the House of Commons

10 Downing Street is the official residence of the First Lord of the Treasury, and not of the Prime Minister.

Queen Elizabeth II and her Prime Ministers

There have been thirteen British Prime Ministers during The Queen's reign: 

They are:


1. Winston Churchill 1951-55
 (rumoured to be the Queen's favourite)

2. Sir Anthony Eden 1955-57


3. Harold Macmillan 1957-63


4. Sir Alec Douglas-Home 1963-64


5. Harold Wilson 1964-70 and 1974-76

6. 
Edward Heath 1970-74


7. James Callaghan 1976-79


8. Margaret Thatcher 1979-90

9. 
John Major 1990-97


10. Tony Blair 1997-2007 (the film The Queen [DVD] [2006] epitomises this superbly)

11. 
Gordon Brown 2007-2010


12. David Cameron 2010-2016

13. Theresa May from 2016

Find out more about Elizabeth II in our Royal Family Section


About Number 10 Downing Street – The official residence of the British Prime Minister

The black door of 10 Downing Street is an iconic building in British and world politics. 

Behind the door has been the official home to British Prime Ministers since 1735 and where decisions that have shaped Britain have been made. 

This is covered superbly in Anthony Seldon's 10 Downing Street: The Illustrated History and Christopher Jones' Number Ten Downing Street: The Story of a House 

Number 10 has 3 functions. 

It is the official residence of the British Prime Minister: it is their office, and it is also the place where the Prime Minister entertains guests from Her Majesty The Queen to Presidents of the United States and other world leaders. 

The Prime Minister hosts countless receptions and events for a whole range of British and overseas guests.

The building is much larger than it appears from its frontage. 

The hall with the chequered floor immediately behind the front door lets on to a warren of rooms and staircases.

The house in Downing Street was joined to a more spacious and elegant building behind it in the late 18th century. 

Number 10 has also spread itself out to the left of the front door, and has taken over much of 12 Downing Street, which is accessed by a corridor that runs through 11 Downing Street – the official residence of the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Relationship with the Monarch

The Queen has a special relationship with the Prime Minister, the senior political figure in the British Government, regardless of their political party.

Although she is a constitutional monarch who remains politically neutral, The Queen retains the ability to give a regular audience to a Prime Minister during his or her term of office, and plays a role in the mechanics of calling a general election.

The Queen gives a weekly audience to the Prime Minister at which she has a right and a duty to express her views on Government matters. 

If either The Queen or the Prime Minister are not available to meet, then they will speak by telephone.

These meetings, as with all communications between The Queen and her Government, remain strictly confidential. 

Having expressed her views, The Queen abides by the advice of her ministers.

The Queen also plays a part in the calling of a general election. 

The Prime Minister of the day may request the Sovereign to grant a dissolution of Parliament at any time.

In normal circumstances, when a single-party government enjoys a majority in the House of Commons, the Sovereign would not refuse, for the government would then resign and the Sovereign would be unable to find an alternative government capable of commanding the confidence of the Commons.

After a general election, the appointment of a Prime Minister is also the prerogative of the Sovereign.

In appointing a Prime Minister, the Sovereign is guided by constitutional conventions. 

The main requirement is to find someone who can command the confidence of the House of Commons.

This is normally secured by appointing the leader of the party with an overall majority of seats in the Commons, but there could still be exceptional circumstances when The Queen might need to exercise discretion to ensure that her Government is carried on.



When a potential Prime Minister is called to Buckingham Palace, The Queen will ask him or her whether he or she will form a government. 

To this question, two responses are realistically possible. The most usual is acceptance.

If the situation is uncertain, as it was with Sir Alec Douglas-Home in 1963, a potential Prime Minister can accept an exploratory commission, returning later to report either failure or, as occurred in 1963, success.

After a new Prime Minister has been appointed, the Court Circular will record that "the Prime Minister Kissed Hands on Appointment". 

This is not literally the case. In fact, the actual kissing of hands will take place later, in Council.