A Commons vote to try to force Boris Johnson out of No 10 immediately has been blocked by the government, in what has been condemned as an “abuse of power”.
The no-confidence vote was expected on Wednesday after being requested by Labour but – in an unprecedented move – it has been denied parliamentary time.
Erskine May, the parliamentary bible, states that “by established convention” the government “always accedes to the demand from the Leader of the Opposition”.
A Labour spokesperson accused the government of “running scared”, saying: “This is totally unprecedented.
“Yet again the Tories are changing the rules to protect their own dodgy mates. All the Tory leadership candidates should denounce this flagrant abuse of power to protect a discredited prime minister.”
Keir Starmer had threatened the vote if the Conservative party refused to eject Mr Johnson immediately – despite key party figures warning it is dangerous to leave him in post for another two months.
But, on Monday, the newly-elected 1922 Committee, in announcing the timetable for the party leadership election, confirmed he would remain in No 10 until 5 September.
It was highly unlikely that enough Tory rebels would be found for the vote to be won – but it would have embarrassed Conservative MPs who voted to keep Mr Johnson in post for now.
It is understood the government is arguing that the vote is a waste of parliamentary time because the prime minister “has already resigned”.
However, Mr Johnson has merely announced his intention to resign, when a successor is found – leaving him with an eight-week “caretaker” period in Downing Street.
The government argument was dismissed by Catherine Haddon, a senior fellow at the Institute for Government, who pointed out “all sorts’ of confidence votes had been permitted in the past.
“Some have focused on both govt confidence and PM,” she tweeted, including one tabled by then-Tory leader Edward Heath in 1965 which said it “deplores the prime minister’s conduct of the nation’s affairs”.
Sir Keir said, ahead of the expected vote: “They can’t now let him cling on for weeks and weeks and weeks until 5 September. It would be intolerable for the country.”
Since his announcement last Thursday, Mr Johnson has sparked alarm by appointing a string of unlikely ministers – including one who made an obscene gesture at crowds at the Downing Street guests.
He has also signalled his intention to hand out resignation knighthoods and peerages to key allies, including culture secretary Nadine Dorries and his own father, it is believed.
However, he did have his wings clipped by the new cabinet, which forced him to agree to no “major” policy decisions before leaving – which meant abandoning planned tax cuts.