While Prime Minister Boris Johnson tested positive for COVID-19 and was treated in the intensive care ward at St Thomas’ Hospital, Dominic Raab, the First Secretary of State, was announced to stand in for him.
“The term, First Secretary of State, for instance, is one which is used historically going way back but in recent times, it’s first associated with Rab Butler, who was effectively Deputy Prime Minister under Harold Macmillan in the late 1950s-early 60s. But at least you had a clear sense of who was responsible in that setting and most governments have some idea of who is the responsible person when the Prime Minister gets suddenly taken out of the loop. Of course, it’s not entirely unprecedented for something like this to happen so Prime Ministers do have routine operations from time to time and usually cover for that.
“This is a bit more like Churchill having his stroke in the early 1950s, where all of a sudden, the Prime Minister is taken out of the loop and it’s not necessarily clear who is minding the shop when that happens and in this setting where you’ve got this term ‘First Secretary of State’, which implies that they’re effectively the person in charge but it’s not absolutely clear who is responsible.”