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A Century of the Most Memorable Quotes From British Prime Ministers

The title of “prime minister” entails a high degree of honor and respect these days, but at one point in history, calling someone a prime minister was actually an insult. Beyond that, it could also be grounds for impeachment, ostracization, and other pushback from fellow Brits.

The earliest idea of an official prime minister came about in the late 17th century, following the Glorious Revolution. This initial vision was to split power more equally between Parliament and the monarchy, the latter of which had previously led the nation. The position of prime minister was meant to serve as a liaison between Parliament and the monarch, and the first person to do so was a member of the Commons named Sir Robert Walpole.

Walpole’s tenure as the first de facto British prime minister began in 1721. However, the role continued to weave in and out of fashion as the new concept was further critiqued, understood, developed, and assigned duties within the confines of Britain’s changing government. Today, the British prime minister serves as the head of the United Kingdom’s government, with the royal family serving as symbolic and philanthropic figureheads.

Although prime ministers technically have no term limit, only one in modern history has ever served more than 10 years: Margaret Thatcher served as PM from 1979 to 1990, with a total term length of 11 years and 209 days. As of September 2023, the current British prime minister is Rishi Sunak, who took over following Liz Truss’ historically short tenure (just 45 days) in late 2022. Without further ado, here are some of the most memorable quotes from British prime ministers of the last century.

Everyone can recognize history when it has happened, but the wise man knows at the moment what is vital and permanent, what is lasting and memorable, and can pick it out from the ordinary ebb and flow of political affairs.
Winston Churchill (1940-1945, 1951-1955)

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Any woman who understands the problems of running a home will be nearer to understanding the problems of running a country.
Margaret Thatcher (1979-1990)

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We have not been pushed around either abroad or at home and we are not going to be. This is government of the people; it is government for all the people, and the accent is on government.
Harold Wilson (1964-1970, 1974-1976)

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The spirit of our age is one in which the prejudices of the past are put behind us, where our diversity is our strength.
Tony Blair (1997-2007)

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Politics is about public service. Everything we do … should be motivated by one goal. Improving the lives of our fellow citizens.
Theresa May (2016-2019)

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I would like to thank first the vast multitudes who voted against me — and I have met quite a few in the last nine months, not all of them entirely polite.
Boris Johnson (2019-2022)

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Over generations, we have built something extraordinary in Britain — a successful multi-racial, multi-faith democracy. It’s open, diverse, welcoming — these characteristics are as British as queuing and talking about the weather.
David Cameron (2010-2016)

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On this day I remember words that have stayed with me since my childhood and which matter a great deal to me today, my school motto: “I will try my outmost.” This is my promise to all of the people of Britain. And now let the work of change begin.
Gordon Brown (2007-2010)

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Do we have the courage to forget the dissensions and the suspicions that have divided us, and to learn to work together for lasting peace and prosperity, not just for our country but for a continent?
Edward Heath (1970-1974)

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All my life, I've been a man of peace, working for peace, striving for peace, negotiating for peace.
Anthony Eden (1955-1957)

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I am myself a man of peace to the depths of my soul. Armed conflict between nations is a nightmare to me. But if I were convinced that any nation had made up its mind to dominate the world by fear of its force, I should feel that it should be resisted.
Neville Chamberlain (1937-1940)

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We want no injustice done to other people. I do not appeal to you merely as a class, but I do appeal to you workers to form yourselves into an organization which will use political power in order to protect our human conditions and give you fair play in life.
Ramsay MacDonald (1924, 1929-1935)

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The essence of [government] service is unselfishness. My first thought has to be of others … there will be no room to think of money or of my own career.
Stanley Baldwin (1923-1924, 1924-1929, 1935-1937)

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The crying need of the nation at this moment — a need which, in my judgment, far exceeds any other — is that we should have tranquillity and stability both at home and abroad so that free scope should be given to the initiative and enterprise of our citizens.
Bonar Law (1922-1923)

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Featured image credit: Evening Standard/ Hulton Archive via Getty Images

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About the Author
Melanie Davis-McAfee
M. Davis-McAfee is a freelance writer, musician, and devoted cat mom of three living in southwest Kentucky.
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