What happens if Rishi Sunak loses his seat before general election result is called?

No sitting prime minister has ever failed to win their seat at a general election – but the opinion polls this time around raise the question of what would happen if Rishi Sunak loses in Richmond.

The constituency could be close, and a survey by Savanta has suggested that the Tory PM is on course to see the 27,000-strong majority in his North Yorkshire constituency overturned.

A report claimed on Wednesday that the prime minister had confided to members of his inner circle that he was fearful of losing his seat, warning confidants that he believed the race in Richmond and Northallerton was too close to call.

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Could Sunak remain PM even if he loses his seat?

In the event of such an outcome being declared in the small hours of Friday, it is highly unlikely that Mr Sunak would stand down as prime minister prior to the final national election result being called later that day.

According to the Institute for Government (IfG), precedent suggests that a prime minister should be an MP – but there is no suggestion that they must immediately resign if they lose their seat.

Rishi Sunak and his wife Akshata Murty visit their polling station on Thursday (AP)
Rishi Sunak and his wife Akshata Murty visit their polling station on Thursday (AP)

As no incumbent PM has ever lost their seat, other ministers are the best source of constitutional precedent for what could occur, according to the think ctank. While just 12 sitting cabinet ministers have lost their seats since 1974, YouGov’s final poll on Wednesday predicted that 14 ministers could be unseated this week.

In the past, ministers have resigned immediately if the election’s outcome is abundantly clear, but some remained in post without constituencies in the early days of hung parliaments in 1974 and 2010, according to the IfG.

As the prime minister’s constitutional status is similar to other ministers, this suggests a PM could also remain in office temporarily even if they lose their seat.

What happens if Sunak loses his seat and Labour wins the election?

“If Rishi Sunak lost his seat he would remain as prime minister until his resignation to the King,” Dr Catherine Haddon, a fellow at the IfG, told The Independent.

“If Labour win a majority, this does not cause any difficulties, as he would have been expected to step down on Friday morning anyway.”

Rishi Sunak announcing the July 4 poll in the rain on Downing Street (Lucy North/PA)
Rishi Sunak announcing the July 4 poll in the rain on Downing Street (Lucy North/PA)

However, the expectation that the leader of the opposition is a sitting MP causes problems for the Tory party, Dr Haddon warned, saying: “They don’t have a deputy leader, unlike Labour, so would need to find someone to replace him as interim leader until a full leadership competition can be run.

“Someone would need to lead questions at PMQs and help organise the opposition in their scrutiny of the government. The party board and the newly formed 1922 backbench committee will be meeting anyway to decide on the rules around a future contest, but they don’t have an obvious mechanism to guide them through.”

Even if Mr Sunak retains his seat, cabinet ministers are reported to be in a fight to convince him to remain as interim Tory leader, with one telling The Times: “We are seeking to persuade Rishi and his team to stay on and provide some continuity.

“We want him to, at the very least, do what Michael Howard did in 2005, and remain in place until the leadership election is complete. Once we get through election day, that will be communicated to him very clearly. We don’t want him to do a David Cameron.”

What happens if Sunak loses and Tories win?

In the event of a Conservative majority or a hung parliament, the PM losing their seat becomes a much bigger problem, said Dr Haddon, warning that there is no constitutional role of “acting prime minister”.


Given the expectation to face weekly Prime Minister’s Questions sessions and other parliamentary scrutiny, Mr Sunak would be unable to remain as prime minister for long without a Commons seat – putting pressure on his party to resolve this situation through an expedited leadership contest, said Dr Haddon.

Furthermore, the Tories losing their leader could affect how a hung parliament is resolved, because the King is expected to appoint someone likely to be able to command confidence, Dr Haddon added.

“The outgoing PM can advise on who the King should call, but it is not binding. It would very much depend on numbers, but the departure of the incumbent PM could make it more likely that the leader of the opposition be called upon to form a government,” she said.

“However, the guiding principle here is that the King must not be drawn into politics, so it would be for the politicians to resolve the question and ensure there is stable government.”