British Prime Minister - Oath of Office

Does the British PM take an oath of office?

I’m just a simple American, but the PM is just a regular member of the House of Commons and I believe they all take the same oath.

I think the Cabinet members get special certificates from the Queen.

There is an oath of allegiance to the queen…

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When Sinn Fein won some seats, they never went to parliament, as they refused to swear allegiance.

As stated all MPs (Members of Parliament) have to swear an oath of allegiance to the queen.

However, there is no extra oath for a member of the cabinet (inc. PM).


In the United Kingdom there is never a set date for an election like in the US (e.g. every four years on the dot for President etc). In the United Kingdom the Prime Minister can call an election whenever he or she chooses as long as it is within five years of the last election. This has an advantage for the government in power as they can call an election when their popularity is high (e.g. Thatcher after Falkland’s war victory in the 80’s).

When a PM wants to do this they must go to the palace and formally ask the queen to dissolve parliament and call a general election (she always says yes because if she said no there would be a constitutional crisis which would probably result in the abolition of the monarchy). An election is held then the party’s leader which has the won the most number of seats in the House of Commons goes to the palace to formally ask to form a government in her name (i.e. Her Majesty’s Government, HM Government etc) she always says yes (same reasons as before) and leader of the party (now the PM) will form his own government from the ranks of the Commons or in some cases the Lords. These cabinet ministers can still sit in the commons whilst sitting on the executive (no formal separation of powers) and the PM can choose who he wants without the House of Lords or Commons sticking their ore in (unlike Senate in America).

A bit of a long winded and off topic answer I know, but hey, who cares?

Oh, Tony Blair a couple of years ago wanted to televise the meeting with the queen when the new PM asks to form a government but I am not sure what’s happening about that.

If you want to see the MPs swearing the oath of allegiance you could probably catch it on the BBC Parliament channel or something, but I think that channel is only available in the UK.

Hope that helps :). It’s a quirky system isn’t it? But I love it.

One of the reasons for the Civil War in Ireland was the Oath of Allegiance Irish politicians had to swear to enter the Free State Assembly here in Ireland.

The British Prime Minister has to swear three oaths:

  1. The Oath of Allegiance to the monarch, required of all M.P.s and Lords before they are allowed to take their seats or vote (also required of members of the Privy Council, in those rare cases where a Privy Councillor does not hold a seat in either House) (Cite: Halsbury’s Laws of England, Vol. 8(2) - Constitutional Law, para. 32; para. 524, note 1.)

  2. The Privy Councillor’s Oath, as a condition of being admitted to the Cabinet. (Cite: Halsbury’s Laws of England, Vol. 8(2) - Constitutional Law, para. 523.)

  3. The Oath of Office as First Lord of the Treasury, which is the formal office held by the Prime Minister, there not being any actual office of “Prime Minister” (Cite: Halsbury’s Laws of England, Vol. 8(2) - Constitutional Law, para. 923.)

Halsbury’s doesn’t give the actual forms of the oaths used. The Oath of Allegiance and the Oath of Office are set out in the Promissory Oaths Act, 1868, which I don’t happen to have handy.

The Privy Councillor’s Oath appears to be a matter of custom rather than statutory obligation, and is not set out in the Promissory Oaths Act, 1868. The form of oath currently used is set out in the Report of the Oaths Committee 1867 (Parliamentary Paper 1867, vol. 31, at p. 84). Halsbury’s summarises it as follows, at para. 523 (citations omitted):

You’ve portrayed the monarch as pretty much impotent, which is understandable when one party has a clear majority. But I’m curious how deep is the antipathy toward royal interference? A couple of hypotheticals:[list=1]
[li]A deeply unpopular PM loses a vote of no confidence, and much of his party has splintered off to form a new party. Yet for whatever political or selfish reason, PM refuses to call an election. Is it conceivable that the Queen would dissolve Parliament without such a formal request, or would she let MPs and the country wail and gnash their teeth for months on end in hopes Parliament would work things out by itself?[/li]
[li]Suppose an election results in Labour getting 40% of seats, Conservatives 35%, Liberal Democrats 20%, and other parties 5%.[/list=1][ul][]Does the leader of Labour still go to the Palace, or do they wait for an invitation? []Assuming the Labour leader shows up at the Palace, is it conceivable that owing to a very rancorous dispute between Labour and the Liberal Dems, that the Queen could decline the request of the Labour leader, thinking that the Tories have a much better shot at forming a coalition?[/li][/ul]

dqa, the PM is the person who can command a majority in the House of Commons. In your scenario, the PM would almost certainly no longer be the PM. The monarch would invite others - typically the Leader of the Opposition - to try to form a majority. Only if no-one could would a General Election be called.

dqa - in the first scenario, if a PM loses a vote of no confidence he is duty bound to either resign or call a general election - it’s our way of getting rid of a PM without a majority. In the almost inconceivable event that a PM who lost such a vote refused to resign, the monarch would almost certainly dismiss them (a la Gough Whitham in Australia) and appoint a caretaker PM.

In the second scenario, it depends who is PM. When an election is called, the PM does not cease to be Prime Minister; if they keep their majority they simply remain in place - if another party gets a majority they resign the day after the election. In a hung parliament - one where no one party has an overall majority - the sitting PM gets the first crack at forming a government, even if they are not the largest party. For example, in Feb 1974 the Conservative PM Edward Heath called an election. The result was a hung Parliament - Conservatives 296 seats, Labour 301, Liberals 14, Others 23. While Labour were the largest party, Heath was still PM and did not initially resign, instead he spoke to the leader of the Liberals about forming a coalition. After a few days the negotiations failed, and Heath finally resigned. The Queen then called the Labour leader, Harold Wilson, as leader of the largest party who formed a minority government.

As Northern Piper has documented, there is indeed a Privy Councillor’s Oath, which each new Cabinet minister must take:

A privy councillor remains a privy councillor even after his or her service as a Cabinet minister ends. Each councillor thus takes the oath when he or she first holds a Cabinet ministry, but need not thereafter take the oath for each new appointment. So a prime minister will have taken the oath early in his or her political career, but not upon becoming prime minister.

my mistake,


Did some digging into the Promissory Oaths Act, 31 & 32 Vict., c. 72 (1868). The Oath of Allegiance is set out in section 2:

The Official Oath (oath of office) for certain positions is set out in section 3:

Section 7 of the Act states that individuals named to one of the specified offices must take the oath before entering the office. If they have entered the office without taking the oath and refuse to do so, they must vacate.

Section 10 provides that the name of the sovereign for the time being shall be substituted for Queen Victoria.

Section 11 provides that an office-holder who has conscientious objections to taking an oath may make a solemn declaration or affirmation instead.

So, Tony Blair’s Oath of Office would have been:

“I, Anthony Charles Lynton Blair, do swear that I will well and truly serve Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second in the office of First Lord of the Treasury. So help me God.”

What exactly is this Privy Council? How does it differ from the Cabinet? Must all Cabinet members also be Privy Councillors?

From the Privy Council website

So it’s really the Cabinet plus a few other government MPs in their role as advisors to the monarch. It was the predecessor of the Cabinet from before we had a constitutional monarchy.

From F.W. Maitland, Constitutional History of England (1908):

The British Cabinet consists of certain senior ministers with whom the Prime Minister regularly consults. Each government decides which ministers will sit in the Cabinet, much as the US President decides who may attend Cabinet meetings in addition to the executive departments’ principal officers.

A minister becomes a privy councillor upon appointment to a Cainet ministry, and remains a privy councillor even after his or her service as a Cabinet minister ends. But the privy councillors that the Crown actually summons to any given Council meeting will consist entirely of Cabinet ministers in the government of the day. Thus, for practical purposes, the Privy Council functions in harmony with the Cabinet, although technically its membership is much broader and includes former ministers from prior governments.

It’s worth noting that the legal fiction is that the Prime Minister is chosen by the Monarch, not by the House of Commons. The British system working as it does, the Monarch is obliged to choose the P.M. from a list of those who can command a majority in the House of Commons, which makes her/his choice Hobson’s in most cases.

But this does have applicability. As with the Whitlam case in Australia, the Monarch is not obliged to grant a dissolution when in her/his judgment a stable government can be formed and an election would not resolve the issue. The Heath/Wilson incident is a case in point, though so far as anyone knows it did not come to the point of a dissolution being requested and refused.

But the point is applicable – the P.M. may remain in office until he/she loses a vote of confidence.

In theory the Crown has the right to dismiss a P.M., though an instance when this would accord with British democracy doesn’t come to mind even as a hypothetical.

Not only “one of the reasons”, in fact, but the primary reason.