For a government that is so very keen on transparency there is a strange reluctance to say who would take over in a national emergency if the Prime Minister was incapacitated or killed. Yesterday I asked the Secretary of State for Defence who would take over as head of the government if the Prime Minster was killed in a terrorist attack, yet again a Minster of the crown refused to answer this simple but important question.
This is not the case in other countries. For instance if the American President is assassinated the Vice President takes over immediately and if he is incapacitated as well then there is a line of responsibility which is clear and known. With the United Kingdom on a ‘substantial’ terror alert, it is not too farfetched to envisage a situation where the Prime Minister is assassinated and at the same time there would be ongoing terror attacks around the country. The cabinet cannot be summoned, a discussion takes place and an acting Prime Minster elected, there just wouldn’t be enough time. The military would want instant decisions on what response to take. There should be a pre determined succession, so everyone would know who the acting Prime Minster was. There may of course be a secret plan of who would be in charge but in a democracy we should know in advance. By nature of any secret plan confusion would reign in the immediate aftermath of a severe terrorist attack.
So all this secrecy is very strange, but could there be a simple explanation? Perhaps the plans call for the Deputy Prime Minster to take over. If that is the case no wonder they do not want to tell anyone. Such a move should be unacceptable to the vast majority of people in this country.
We surely cannot have an acting Prime Minister who might be sulking when the terrorists attack, nor could we have an acting Prime Minster who does not follow collective responsibility. How could we have Nick Clegg in charge when on one day he says one thing, which had been agreed by the cabinet and then says the completely opposite the following day. Someone who flip flops between decisions should not be in charge of the nation at the time of a national crisis.
Equally how could we have the leader of a small minority party who’s views on defence, in particular the nuclear deterrent bear no relation to the vast majority of the British people, in charge of making crucial military decisions.
What the country has a right to know is who would take over in the unfortunate circumstances of the death of a Prime Minster and a terrorist attack. Now I don’t mind if it is the Home Secretary, Foreign Secretary or Chancellor, but we need to know and we need a line of succession. This is not something that can be decided upon after an attack it should be known in advance and made clear to any terrorists that whatever happens the country will know who is in charge in the immediate aftermath.
The one person who is not fit to do this job and should have no place in such a succession is the Deputy Prime Minster.