Cabinet of the United Kingdom

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Cabinet of the United Kingdom
of Great Britain and Northern Ireland

Cabinet Room, 10 Downing Street
Cabinet overview
(380 years ago)
TypeCommittee of the Privy Council
JurisdictionHis Majesty's Government

The Cabinet of the United Kingdom is the senior decision-making body of His Majesty's Government.[1] A committee of the Privy Council, it is chaired by the Prime Minister and its members include Secretaries of State and other senior ministers. Members of the Cabinet are appointed by the Prime Minister and are by convention chosen from members of the two houses of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, the House of Commons and the House of Lords.

The Ministerial Code says that the business of the Cabinet (and cabinet committees) is mainly questions of major issues of policy, questions of critical importance to the public and questions on which there is an unresolved argument between departments.[2]

The work of the Cabinet is scrutinised by the Official Opposition's Shadow Cabinet.


Until at least the 16th century, individual officers of state had separate property, powers and responsibilities granted with their separate offices by royal command, and the Crown and the Privy Council constituted the only co-ordinating authorities. In England, phrases such as "cabinet counsel", meaning advice given in private, in a cabinet in the sense of a small room, to the monarch, occur from the late 16th century, and, given the non-standardised spelling of the day, it is often hard to distinguish whether "council" or "counsel" is meant.[3] The OED credits Francis Bacon in his Essays (1605) with the first use of "Cabinet council", where it is described as a foreign habit, of which he disapproves: "For which inconveniences, the doctrine of Italy, and practice of France, in some kings' times, hath introduced cabinet counsels; a remedy worse than the disease".[4] Charles I began a formal "Cabinet Council" from his accession in 1625, as his Privy Council, or "private council", and the first recorded use of "cabinet" by itself for such a body comes from 1644, and is again hostile and associates the term with dubious foreign practices.[3]

There were ministries in England led by the chief minister, which was a personage leading the English government for the monarch. Despite primary accountability to the monarch, these ministries, having a group of ministers running the country, served as a predecessor of the modern perspective of cabinet. After the ministry of Lord Stanhope and Lord Sunderland collapsed, Sir Robert Walpole rose to power as First Lord of the Treasury. Since the reign of King George I the Cabinet has been the principal executive group of British government. Both he and George II made use of the system, as both were not native English speakers, unfamiliar with British politics, and thus relied heavily on selected groups of advisers. The term "minister" came into being since the royal officers "ministered" to the sovereign. The name and institution have been adopted by most English-speaking countries, and the Council of Ministers or similar bodies of other countries are often informally referred to as cabinets.[citation needed]

Cabinet Office, London

The modern Cabinet system was set up by Prime Minister David Lloyd George during his premiership, 1916–1922, with a Cabinet Office and secretariat, committee structures, unpublished minutes, and a clearer relationship with departmental Cabinet ministers. The formal procedures, practice and proceedings of the Cabinet remain largely unpublished.[citation needed]

This development grew out of the exigencies of the First World War, where faster and better co-ordinated decisions across government were seen as a crucial part of the war effort. Decisions on mass conscription, co-ordination worldwide with other governments across international theatres, and armament production tied into a general war strategy that could be developed and overseen from an inner "War Cabinet". The country went through successive crises after the war: the 1926 general strike; the Great Depression of 1929–32; the rise of Bolshevism after 1917 and fascism after 1922; the Spanish Civil War 1936 onwards; the invasion of Abyssinia 1936; the League of Nations Crisis which followed; and the re-armament and resurgence of Germany from 1933, leading into the Second World War. All these demanded a highly organised and centralised government centred on the Cabinet.[citation needed]


The Prime Minister decides the membership and attendees of the Cabinet.[5]

The total number of Cabinet ministers who are entitled to a salary is capped by statute at 21, plus the Lord Chancellor, who is paid separately.[6] Some ministers may be designated as also attending Cabinet, like the Attorney General,[7] as " has been considered more appropriate, in recent times at any rate, that the independence and detachment of his office should not be blurred by his inclusion in a political body – that is to say the Cabinet – which may have to make policy decisions upon the basis of the legal advice the law officers have given."[8]

The Cabinet is a committee of the Privy Council (though this interpretation has been challenged) and, as such, all Cabinet ministers must be privy counsellors.[9]

Members of the Cabinet are by convention chosen from members of the two houses of Parliament, as the Peel convention dictates that ministers may only be recruited from the House of Commons or the House of Lords, although this convention has been broken in the past for short periods.[10] Patrick Gordon Walker is perhaps the most notable exception: he was appointed to the Cabinet despite losing his seat in the 1964 general election, and resigned from Cabinet after running and losing in a by-election in January 1965.[11] Sometimes, when a minister from neither House is appointed, they have been granted a customary peerage.[12] The Cabinet is now made up almost entirely of members of the House of Commons.[7]

Civil servants from the Cabinet Secretariat and special advisers (on the approval of the prime minister) can also attend Cabinet meetings, but neither take part in discussions.[1]

It has been suggested that the modern Cabinet is too large, including by former Cabinet Secretary Mark Sedwill and scholars Robert Hazell and Rodney Brazier.[13][14] Hazell has suggested merging the offices of Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales into one Secretary of State for the Union,[13] in a department into which Rodney Brazier has suggested adding a minister of state for England with responsibility for English local government.[14]

Meetings of the cabinet[edit]

Prime Minister Boris Johnson chairing the first meeting of his Cabinet
The Cabinet table
Her Majesty's Cabinet on a 19th-century trade card

Most cabinet meetings take place in the Cabinet Room of 10 Downing Street; however, they have been known to take place in other places.[1]

Despite the custom of meeting on a Thursday, after the appointment of Gordon Brown, the meeting day was switched to Tuesday.[15] However, when David Cameron became prime minister, he held his cabinet meetings on Thursdays again. Upon Theresa May's tenure, she switched the cabinet meetings back to Tuesday.[16]

The length of meetings varies according to the style of the Prime Minister and political conditions, but modern meetings can be as short as 30 minutes.[citation needed] Ministers are bound by the constitutional convention of collective ministerial responsibility.[17]


Cabinet ministers, like all ministers, are appointed and may be dismissed by the monarch without notice or reason, on the advice of the prime minister. The allocation and transfer of responsibilities between ministers and departments is also generally at the prime minister's discretion. The Cabinet has always been led by the prime minister, whose originally unpaid office as such was traditionally described as merely primus inter pares (first among equals), but today the prime minister is the preeminent head of government, with the effective power to appoint and dismiss Cabinet ministers and to control the Cabinet's agenda. The extent to which the Government is collegial varies with political conditions and individual personalities.[citation needed]

The Cabinet is the ultimate decision-making body of the executive within the Westminster system of government in traditional constitutional theory. This interpretation was originally put across in the work of 19th-century constitutionalists such as Walter Bagehot, who described the Cabinet as the "efficient secret" of the British political system in his book The English Constitution. The political and decision-making authority of the cabinet has been gradually reduced over the last several decades, with some claiming its role has been usurped by a "prime ministerial" government. In the modern political era, the prime minister releases information concerning the ministerial ranking in the form of a list detailing the seniority of all Cabinet ministers.[18]

The centralisation of the Cabinet in the early 20th century enhanced the power of the prime minister, who moved from being the primus inter pares of the Asquith Cabinets of 1906 onwards, to the dominating figures of David Lloyd George, Stanley Baldwin, and Winston Churchill.[citation needed]

The Institute for Government claims that the reduced number of full Cabinet meetings signifies "that the role of Cabinet as a formal decision-making body has been in decline since the war."[19] This view has been contradicted by Vernon Bogdanor, a British constitutional expert, who claims that "the Cabinet has, in fact, been strengthened by the decline in full meetings, as it allows more matters to be transferred to cabinet committees. Thus, business is done more efficiently."[20]

Most prime ministers have had a so-called "kitchen cabinet" consisting of their own trusted advisers who may be Cabinet members but are often non-cabinet trusted personal advisers on their own staff. In recent governments, generally from Margaret Thatcher, and especially in that of Tony Blair, it has been reported that many or even all major decisions have been made before cabinet meetings. This suggestion has been made by former ministers including Clare Short and Chris Smith, in the media, and was made clear in the Butler Review, where Blair's style of "sofa government" was censured.[citation needed]

The combined effect of the prime minister's ability to control Cabinet by circumventing effective discussion in Cabinet and the executive's ability to dominate parliamentary proceedings places the British prime minister in a position of great power, that has been likened to an elective dictatorship (a phrase coined by Quinton Hogg, Lord Hailsham in 1976). The relative inability of Parliament to hold the Government of the day to account is often cited by the UK media as a justification for the vigour with which they question and challenge the Government.[21]

The classic view of Cabinet Government was laid out by Walter Bagehot in The English Constitution (1867) in which he described the prime minister as the primus‐inter‐pares ("first among equals").[22] The view was questioned by Richard Crossman in The Myths of Cabinet Government (1972) and by Tony Benn. They were both members of the Labour governments of the 1960s and thought that the position of the prime minister had acquired more power so that prime ministerial government was a more apt description.[22] Crossman stated that the increase in the power of the prime minister resulted from power of centralised political parties, the development of a unified civil service, and the growth of the prime minister's private office and Cabinet secretariat.[23]

Graham Allen (a government whip during Tony Blair's first government) makes the case in The Last Prime Minister: Being Honest About the UK Presidency (2003) that the office of prime minister has presidential powers,[24] as did Michael Foley in The British Presidency (2000).[25] However the power that a prime minister has over his or her cabinet colleagues is directly proportional to the amount of support that they have with their political parties and this is often related to whether the party considers them to be an electoral asset or liability. Also when a party is divided into factions a prime minister may be forced to include other powerful party members in the Cabinet for party political cohesion. The Prime Minister's personal power is also curtailed if their party is in a power-sharing arrangement, or a formal coalition with another party (as happened in the coalition government of 2010 to 2015).[23][22][26]

Current Cabinet[edit]

As of 7 December 2023, the makeup of the Cabinet in order of ministerial ranking (via is:[27][7][28]

Sunak Ministry
Office(s) Department Took office
Cabinet ministers
Rishi Sunak
MP for Richmond (Yorks)
Prime Minister
First Lord of the Treasury
Minister for the Civil Service
Minister for the Union
Cabinet Office 25 October 2022
(19 months ago)
Oliver Dowden
MP for Hertsmere
Deputy Prime Minister
Secretary of State in the Cabinet Office
Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster
Cabinet Office 21 April 2023
(13 months ago)
9 February 2023
(15 months ago)
25 October 2022
(19 months ago)
Portrait of Jeremy Hunt
Jeremy Hunt
MP for South West Surrey
Chancellor of the Exchequer
Second Lord of the Treasury
HM Treasury 14 October 2022
(19 months ago)
David Cameron, Baron Cameron of Chipping Norton
Life peer
Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office 13 November 2023
(6 months ago)
James Cleverly
MP for Braintree
Secretary of State for the Home Department Home Office 13 November 2023
(6 months ago)
Grant Shapps Official Cabinet Portrait, October 2022 (Sunak ministry, cropped) Grant Shapps
MP for Welwyn Hatfield
Secretary of State for Defence Ministry of Defence 31 August 2023
(8 months ago)
Alex Chalk
MP for Cheltenham
Secretary of State for Justice
Lord Chancellor
Ministry of Justice 21 April 2023
(13 months ago)
Michelle Donelan
MP for Chippenham
Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology Department for Science, Innovation and Technology 20 July 2023
(10 months ago)
Victoria Atkins
MP for Louth and Horncastle
Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Department of Health and Social Care 13 November 2023
(6 months ago)
Michael Gove
MP for Surrey Heath
Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities
Minister for Intergovernmental Relations
Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities 25 October 2022
(19 months ago)
Steve Barclay
MP for North East Cambridgeshire
Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 13 November 2023
(6 months ago)
Penny Mordaunt
MP for Portsmouth North
Leader of the House of Commons
Lord President of the Council
Office of the Leader of the House of Commons[a] 6 September 2022
(20 months ago)
Nicholas True, Baron True
Life peer
Leader of the House of Lords
Lord Keeper of the Privy Seal
Office of the Leader of the House of Lords[b] 6 September 2022
(20 months ago)
Kemi Badenoch
MP for Saffron Walden
Secretary of State for Business and Trade
President of the Board of Trade
Minister for Women and Equalities
Department for Business and Trade
Government Equalities Office
7 February 2023
(15 months ago)
6 September 2022
(20 months ago)
25 October 2022
(19 months ago)
Official portrait of Claire Coutinho MP crop 2 Claire Coutinho
MP for East Surrey
Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero Department for Energy Security and Net Zero 31 August 2023
(8 months ago)
Mel Stride
MP for Central Devon
Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Department for Work and Pensions 25 October 2022
(19 months ago)
Gillian Keegan
MP for Chichester
Secretary of State for Education Department for Education 25 October 2022
(19 months ago)
Mark Harper
MP for Forest of Dean
Secretary of State for Transport Department for Transport 25 October 2022
(19 months ago)
Lucy Frazer
MP for South East Cambridgeshire
Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport Department for Culture, Media and Sport 7 February 2023
(15 months ago)
Richard Holden
MP for North West Durham
Minister without Portfolio[c] Cabinet Office 13 November 2023
(6 months ago)
Chris Heaton-Harris
MP for Daventry
Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Northern Ireland Office 6 September 2022
(20 months ago)
Alister Jack
MP for Dumfries and Galloway
Secretary of State for Scotland Scotland Office 24 July 2019
(4 years ago)
David Davies
MP for Monmouth
Secretary of State for Wales Wales Office 25 October 2022
(19 months ago)
Ministers who also attend Cabinet
Simon Hart
MP for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire
Government Chief Whip
Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury
HM Treasury[d] 25 October 2022
(19 months ago)
Laura Trott
MP for Sevenoaks
Chief Secretary to the Treasury HM Treasury 13 November 2023
(6 months ago)
Victoria Prentis
MP for Banbury
Attorney General for England and Wales
Advocate General for Northern Ireland
Attorney General's Office 25 October 2022
(19 months ago)
John Glen
MP for Salisbury
Minister for the Cabinet Office
Paymaster General
Cabinet Office 13 November 2023
(6 months ago)
Esther McVey
MP for Tatton
Minister of State without Portfolio Cabinet Office 13 November 2023
(6 months ago)
Tom Tugendhat
MP for Tonbridge and Malling
Minister of State for Security Home Office 6 September 2022
(20 months ago)
Andrew Mitchell
MP for Sutton Coldfield
Deputy Foreign Secretary

Minister of State for Development and Africa

Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office 12 April 2024
(45 days ago)
25 October 2022
(19 months ago)
Johnny Mercer
MP for Plymouth Moor View
Minister of State for Veterans' Affairs Cabinet Office 25 October 2022
(19 months ago)
Michael Tomlinson
MP for Mid Dorset and North Poole
Minister of State for Countering Illegal Migration Home Office 7 December 2023
(5 months ago)

List of Cabinets since 1900[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The Office of the Leader of the House of Commons is a ministerial department of the Cabinet Office.
  2. ^ The Office of the Leader of the House of Lords is a ministerial department of the Cabinet Office.
  3. ^ Also Conservative Party chairman though this is not a ministerial position.
  4. ^ Technically a part of the Treasury, but de facto a part of a semi-independent whips office supported by the Cabinet Office.


  1. ^ a b c Durrant, Tim (31 March 2021). "Cabinet". Institute for Government. Archived from the original on 27 June 2020. Retrieved 18 August 2021.
  2. ^ "Ministerial Code" (PDF). August 2019. p. 4. Archived (PDF) from the original on 6 September 2019. Retrieved 20 April 2021.
  3. ^ a b OED Cabinet
  4. ^ "The Harvard Classics. 1909–14. > Francis Bacon > Essays, Civil and Moral. XX. Of Counsel". Archived from the original on 4 March 2016.
  5. ^ "The Cabinet Manual" (PDF). Government of the United Kingdom. October 2011. p. 22. Archived (PDF) from the original on 15 April 2018. Retrieved 18 August 2021.
  6. ^ Rhodes, Chris; Watson, Chris (6 August 2021). "Limitations on the number of Ministers" (PDF). Parliament of the United Kingdom. p. 6. Archived (PDF) from the original on 11 June 2015. Retrieved 18 August 2021.
  7. ^ a b c "Ministers". Government of the United Kingdom. Retrieved 22 November 2022.
  8. ^ Jones, Elwyn (April 1969). "The Office of Attorney-General". Cambridge Law Journal. 27 (1): 47. doi:10.1017/S0008197300088899. S2CID 145400357.
  9. ^ Hennessy, Peter (2000). The Prime Minister: The Office and its Holders Since 1945. Penguin Books. p. 47. ISBN 978-0140283938.
  10. ^ Shaw, Neil (13 November 2023). "How David Cameron can be Foreign Secretary when he is not an MP". Nottinghamshire Live. Retrieved 19 November 2023.
  11. ^ Hennessy, Peter (2000). The Prime Minister: The Office and its Holders Since 1945. Penguin Books. pp. 47–48. ISBN 978-0140283938.
  12. ^ "How members are appointed". Parliament of the United Kingdom. Archived from the original on 12 May 2012. Retrieved 18 August 2021.
  13. ^ a b "Times letters: Mark Sedwill's call for a cull of the cabinet". The Times. ISSN 0140-0460. Retrieved 30 November 2020.
  14. ^ a b "Rodney Brazier: Why is Her Majesty's Government so big?". UK Constitutional Law Association. 7 September 2020. Retrieved 30 November 2020.
  15. ^ Jones, George (2 July 2007). "Cabinet moves to Tuesdays". The Daily Telegraph. Archived from the original on 12 January 2022.
  16. ^ "David Cameron coalition team in first cabinet meeting". BBC News. 13 May 2010. Retrieved 15 June 2017.
  17. ^ Zodgekar, Ketaki (4 November 2019). "Collective responsibility". Institute for Government. Archived from the original on 3 October 2020. Retrieved 18 August 2021.
  18. ^ "MPs and Lords". Her Majesty's Government.
  19. ^ Andrew, Blick; George, Jones (7 June 2010). "Policy Papers | The power of the Prime Minister > Measuring Cabinet government". Archived from the original on 7 November 2015. Retrieved 13 April 2022.
  20. ^ "Vernon Bogdanor: Britain is in the process of developing a constitution". Archived from the original on 30 October 2014. Retrieved 28 September 2014.
  21. ^ "Newspaper support in general elections". The Guardian. 4 May 2010.
  22. ^ a b c Fairclough, Paul (2002). "6.1 The Primemister". Advanced Government and Politics. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-913434-2.
  23. ^ a b Williams, Andy (1998). "Prime ministerial government". UK Government & Politics. Heinemann. pp. 113–114. ISBN 978-0-435-33158-0.
  24. ^ Allen, Graham (14 February 2017). The Last Prime Minister: Being Honest About the UK Presidency. Andrews UK Limited. ISBN 978-1-84540-609-7.
  25. ^ Foley, Michael (2000). "Chapter 1: The Blair revolution and presidential standard". The British Presidency. Manchester University Press. pp. 1-26. ISBN 978-0-7190-5016-9.
  26. ^ Palekar, S.A. (2008). "Position of the Prime Minister". Comparative Politics and Government. PHI Learning Pvt. Ltd. p. 37. ISBN 978-81-203-3335-2.
  27. ^ "The Cabinet". Parliament of the United Kingdom. Retrieved 21 September 2023.
  28. ^ "His Majesty's Government: The Cabinet". Parliament of the United Kingdom. Retrieved 22 November 2022.; Durrant, Tim; Tingay, Paeony (10 February 2022). "Downing Street chief of staff". Institute for Government. Retrieved 26 April 2022.; "FOI2021 07221 REPLY.pdf". 26 April 2021. Archived from the original on 27 April 2021. Retrieved 8 June 2021.; "Office of the Leader of the House of Commons". Government of the United Kingdom. Retrieved 26 April 2022.; "Office of the Leader of the House of Lords". Government of the United Kingdom. Retrieved 26 April 2022.

External links[edit]