UK Politics

Syria crisis: Ministers apologise for missing crucial vote

Transport Secretary Justine Greening at the former Curzon Street railway station
Image caption Justine Greening is in charge of the UK's international development budget

Two senior ministers who missed a crucial Commons vote on Syria despite being in Parliament have "apologised profusely", David Cameron has said.

Justine Greening and Mark Simmonds were having a meeting elsewhere in the building and said the bell alerting MPs to votes taking place did not ring.

The prime minister said their absence was due to a "technical issue" and would not have affected the outcome.

MPs defeated the government and ruled out future UK military intervention.

Parliament rejected any British participation in military action in Syria after the government lost a vote in the House of Commons backing the principle of intervention by 13 votes.

Nearly 40 MPs from the two governing parties joined Labour in voting against the government's motion, while two abstained.


A further 30 Conservative MPs - including a number of serving ministers - are reported to have missed the vote, which was called at short notice during Parliament's summer break.

Among those, it has emerged that international development secretary Justine Greening and foreign office minister Mark Simmonds were present in Parliament but did not make it into the Commons chamber to vote.

A spokeswoman for Ms Greening said she and Mr Simmonds, who is responsible for Africa policy, were discussing another foreign policy issue during the vote.

The division bell, which rings across the Palace of Westminster to alert MPs to imminent votes, did not sound on Thursday evening, she added, and the two ministers were apparently unaware the crunch vote on the government's motion was taking place.

"Mark Simmonds asked to speak to her [Ms Greening] about a separate Foreign Office issue and took her to the ministers' meeting room, which is a small room near the chamber which ministers often use between votes, and the clerks did not ring the bell," she said.

'Working correctly'

But a House of Commons spokesman said there had been no fault with the division bell.

"Both divisions proceeded as normal last night, with division bells and the usual audio/visual indications on the hundreds of monitors around the estate," he said.

"The division bells have been tested this morning and are working correctly."

Minister without portfolio Ken Clarke was unable to attend for family reasons but issued a statement saying that he "fully supported" the government's position.

"I participated in the National Security Council meeting on Wednesday and I am completely satisfied that the action proposed would not repeat what I personally still regard as the folly of invading Iraq.

"I am shocked by the use of chemical weapons and believe action should be taken targeted specifically at the reduction of the ability of anyone in Syria to use them again."

'Disgrace claim'

Education Secretary Michael Gove is reported to have shouted "disgrace, disgrace, disgrace" at Conservative MPs after Thursday's vote, according to other MPs present in the chamber.

In the wake of the vote, Mr Gove's wife - journalist Sarah Vine - tweeted: "No military action would have come out of it. It was simply about sending a signal. Cowardice."

In a further tweet, she suggested Labour - whose own motion was also defeated - said the opposition "got everything they wanted".

She wrote: "But given the choice of humiliating David Cameron or taking a stand against atrocity, they chose the former. Nice."

Chancellor George Osborne said the government "respected the will" of Parliament and would not try to return to the House of Commons to secure a mandate for action in Syria, saying this was "not possible".

He said he did not want to be part of a government that "ploughed on" in the face of public opinion.