Cameron: "Technical issue" behind failure of senior MPs to turn up to Syria vote

UK prime minister David Cameron has said that the two senior Tory ministers who missed yesterday’s vote on intervention in Syria did so because a “technical issue” meant they didn’t hear the division bell.

Minister without portfolio Kenneth Clarke was unable to attend the vote for family reasons – although he released a statement saying he backed the government’s position. The motion for a strong response to the use of chemical weapons by Syrian president Bashar al-Assad was narrowly defeated last night by 285 votes to 272.

However, two senior ministers were present at Parliament, but say they did not know what time the vote was. They were secretary of state for international development Justine Greening and junior foreign office minister Mark Simmonds. Cameron said that a technical issue meant the normal division bell that rings to alert MPs to imminent votes did not sound, meaning the two ministers were unaware the vote was taking place.

According to blogger Guido Fawkes, Greening said earlier that she was not aware the vote was taking place because there wasn’t a second bell, not that she didn’t hear the bell.

Cameron said that his only regret was that “it wasn’t possible to build a consensus of all parties”. In addition to 30 Conservative MPs, nine Liberal Democrat MPs joined Labour in voting against the motion. Greening’s deputy Alan Duncan was one of the Tory ministers who rebelled against the prime minister.

Labour leader Ed Miliband tweeted this earlier today:

Cameron added that he hasn’t spoken to US president Barack Obama since last night’s vote.

I haven't spoken to him since the debate and the vote but I would expect to speak to him over the next day or so. I don't think it's a question of having to apologise.

The US has said it will continue to seek a coalition for military intervention – something that French president Francois Hollande seems keen to participate in.