Boris Johnson will stage a no-confidence in his own government – in a “bizarre” twist to the row over Labour being denied Commons time for the showdown.
The prime minister was accused of an “abuse of power” after breaking with parliamentary convention by refusing the vote earmarked for Wednesday – accusing Labour of “playing politics”.
Now the vote will take place on Monday, but only giving MPs the opportunity to express confidence in the government, not in Mr Johnson himself, a move a Labour source branded “bizarre”.
A government spokesperson accused Keir Starmer of breaking with convention by making the prime minister the target of the vote – a claim dismissed by experts.
“To remedy this we are tabling a motion which gives the House the opportunity to decide if it has confidence in the government.” a statement said.
Labour accused the government of “running scared” when its vote on confidence in Mr Johnson was denied on Tuesday, saying: “This is totally unprecedented.”
Erskine May, the parliamentary bible. States that “by established convention” the government “always accedes to the demand from the Leader of the Opposition”.
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.
The government argued that the vote was a waste of parliamentary time because the prime minister “has already resigned”, even though he remains in No 10.
Sir Keir’s spokesman said it would be “brazen hypocrisy” for Tory MPs who have called for Mr Johnson to go immediately to back the government next week – in a debate Mr Johnson will lead.
The row blew up as Mr Johnson sparked speculation that he will skip next week’s prime minister’s questions – which would make today’s confrontation his last.
The funeral of the assassinated former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe is expected in the middle of next week. Mr Johnson’s political spokeswoman said he had “no plans” to attend.
“As it stands, the prime minister will be doing prime minister’s questions next week,” the spokeswoman said.
Downing Street also revealed that Mr Johnson will leave No 10 on 6 September, one day after his successor is announced following a ballot of Tory members.
His political spokeswoman also denied the widespread belief that he is working behind the scenes to try to prevent the former chancellor Rishi Sunak seizing the crown.
Eyebrows were raised when Nadine Dorries and Jacob Rees-Mogg appeared outside the No 10 door to endorse Liz Truss – a leading ‘Stop Sunak’ candidate.
“We are not getting into leadership conversations. We are remaining neutral in this process,” the spokeswoman said.