Scores of Tory MPs joined the opposition in a failed coup to stop the election of a Boris Johnson ally as head of an all-powerful scrutiny committee.
Bernard Jenkin, a Vote Leave board member, was elected chair of the liaison committee despite a challenge to block him from the position from within his own party.
Up to 16 Tory MPs, including former minister Jeremy Hunt and transport select committee chairman Huw Merriman, voted in favour of a Labour amendment to bar Jenkin from the post – which is the only chair position with the power to interrogate the prime minister.
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The vote was defeated by 262 votes to 323, with a majority of 61.
Opposition MPs say Jenkin was under-qualified for the position arguing candidates must be a chair of another committee to be eligible, which they claim Jenkin is not.
Mother of the House and Labour MP Harriet Harman called the appointment ‘shameful’ and said that it should be for parliament to decide how the government is held to account.
‘Why is the government doing this? A confident government would have nothing to fear from robust, independent scrutiny,’ she said.
‘This move will weaken parliament, but even more, it is a sign of weakness from government.’
She said the defeat of the vote was a ‘bad day for the House’ and a ‘shameful’ one for the government.
Shadow Commons leader Valerie Vaz said the move ‘offends against everything this House stands for’.
‘A chair of a select committee carries great responsibilities – there are duties, responsibilities and, most of all, accountability to other members of the select committee. The proposed nominee has none of that,’ she added.
SNP’s Commons leader Tommy Sheppard said the government was trying to ‘mute criticisms’. ‘There is a pattern emerging here, ‘ he said. ‘It shows a government trying to mute criticism by procedural means, a government running scared of accountability, and it is not a good look.’
The selection process has been marred in controversy after it turned out Jenkin was the only candidate in the running for the position.
Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg hit back at the comments saying that Jenkins had history of ‘robustly holding the government to account’.
‘This government has chosen to put forward a distinguished member to chair the liaison committee, it is for the House to decide, extending the degree of democracy whether it agrees the government’s motion and thereby proves (Jenkins’) appointment in this way,’ he said.
‘The motion is the most democratic way of providing a mandate for the chairman of the liaison committee.’
Jenkins has vowed to serve the committee ‘independently and impartially’.