Syria crisis: David Cameron plans reshuffle after chaotic defeat in Commons

Prime Minister is reported to be furious as the full extent of the Government’s disorganisation over Syria vote becomes apparent

David Cameron will try to restore his shattered authority after his humiliating Commons rebuff on Syria by reshuffling his ministerial team – and shaking up a Whips Office being blamed for his disastrous defeat on Thursday night.

Sir George Young, the Conservative Chief Whip, is expected to pay the price by losing his job in a reshuffle likely to take place within weeks. Although some Tory MPs believe he is being made a scapegoat for a rush to military action by Mr Cameron, ministers said the performance of the party’s whips in the run-up to the crunch vote was poor. “It was the most woeful I have ever seen,” one long-serving Tory MP said tonight.

Sir George, 72, was unexpectedly recalled to the post last October – only a month after standing down – when Andrew Mitchell resigned over his confrontation with police officers at the gates of Downing Street. Contenders for the job this time around include Liam Fox, the former Defence Secretary; Eric Pickles, the Communities Secretary and John Hayes, the Minister without Portfolio who now acts as Mr Cameron’s link man with Tory backbenchers.

Mr Cameron will use his reshuffle to promote more women as he tries to move towards his pledge in opposition that a third of ministerial jobs would be held by them. Two whips, Karen Bradley and Nicky Morgan, are among the female MPs who are tipped for promotion.

A shaken Mr Cameron launched his fightback today as he was described as “a broken-backed Prime Minister” by Lord (Paddy) Ashdown, the former Liberal Democrat leader who supported Mr Cameron’s plan to join US-led military strikes against the Assad regime over its alleged use of chemical weapons against its own people on 21 August.

Lord Ashdown said: “In 50 years of trying to serve my country, I have never felt to depressed or ashamed... We are a hugely diminished country.”

Mr Cameron disputed Lord Ashdown’s verdict and insisted that Britain could still be a force on the world stage without joining the expected military action in Syria. Although he regretted that he was unable to build a consensus in Britain for a response to the chemical weapons attack, he insisted the UK remained “deeply engaged” on the world stage. He added: “ We have great strengths as a country, we should continue to use those.But on this specific issue, because of the huge concerns about this appalling Syrian conflict and people worrying about how we might get sucked into it, on that specific issue that trumped, as it were, the sense of outrage about the chemical weapons. I understand that, I get that.”

The Prime Minister, who spoke to Barack Obama on the telephone tonight, said earlier he would not apologise to the US President for being unable to fulfil his pledge to join the intervention. Mr Cameron insisted that a “robust response” is needed to the Assad regime’s actions and that Britain could still play its part. “There are a series of things we will continue to do. We will continue to take a case to the United Nations, we will continue to work in all the organisations we are members of – whether the EU, or Nato, or the G8 or the G20 – to condemn what’s happened in Syria. It’s important we uphold the international taboo on the use of chemical weapons,” he said.

George Osborne, the Chancellor, acknowledged there would now be “soul searching” about the Uk’s global role but warned: “I hope this doesn’t become a moment where we turn our back on all of the world’s problems.” He conceded: “Obviously it would have been better from the point of view of the special relationship if we were able to take part in any military action, should that military action take place, alongside the Americans.”

Ed Miliband insisted that blocking any military intervention in Syria was not the result he wanted. He said: “given where we are and given what’s happened, I think now Britain needs to focus on what Britain can do for the people of Syria. What we can do is use all of our status in the world to push forward political, diplomatic and humanitarian assistance to the people of Syria and most particularly put the issue of Syria at the top of the G20 in Russia next week.”

What happens next?

Saturday UN weapon inspectors will leave Syria in the morning, one day ahead of schedule. They will then report directly to the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, with an interim UN report likely to be published soon after. They were originally not due to disclose their findings for a week at least.

Wednesday The French parliament is due to meet for an emergency debate the Syria crisis. Under French law, a one-off military strike does not need parliamentary approval.

Thursday-Friday World leaders will gather in St Petersburg for the G20 summit. Syria is not on the official agenda, but will be discussed in bilateral meetings. President Barack Obama is due to meet Russia’s President, Vladimir Putin.

Greening sorry for missing vote

(Reuters)
The Conservative Cabinet minister Justine Greening has “apologised profusely” to David Cameron for failing to turn up to support the Government on the crucial Syria vote.

The International Development Secretary was present for the first of two Syria votes, when an amendment proposed by Ed Miliband was voted down.

But afterwards, she went to one of the nearby offices reserved for ministers to thrash out an item of Government business with the Foreign Office minister Mark Simmonds. Both overlooked the fact that there was to be a second vote on a Government motion, just 18 minutes after the first. Mr Simmonds has also apologised.

Ms Greening claimed that the division bell summoning MPs to vote did not ring in their office, but when Commons staff tested the bell today, it was working. There are reports the room is soundproofed, however.

Andrew Grice

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Nursery Manager

£100 - £110 per day: Randstad Education Ilford: Nursery Manager Long term Ran...

Sales Consultant – Permanent – West Sussex – £24-£25k plus commission and other benefits

£24000 - £25000 Per Annum plus company car and commission: Clearwater People S...

SEN Teaching Assistant

£45 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Bristol: Supply SEN Support Jobs in Bris...

SEN Teaching Assistant

£45 - £60 per day: Randstad Education Bristol: Supply SEN Support Jobs in Glou...

Day In a Page

Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

Fall of the Berlin Wall

History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

Turn your mobile phone into easy money

There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes
Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs:

Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs

"I have never regarded anything I have done in "the media" as a proper job"
Lyricist Richard Thomas shares his 11-step recipe for creating a hit West End musical

11-step recipe for creating a West End hit

Richard Thomas, the lyricist behind the Jerry Springer and Anna Nicole Smith operas, explains how Bob Dylan, 'Breaking Bad' and even Noam Chomsky inspired his songbook for the new musical 'Made in Dagenham'
Tonke Dragt's The Letter for the King has finally been translated into English ... 50 years on

Buried treasure: The Letter for the King

The coming-of-age tale about a boy and his mission to save a mythical kingdom has sold a million copies since it was written by an eccentric Dutchwoman in 1962. Yet until last year, no one had read it in English
Can instilling a sense of entrepreneurship in pupils have a positive effect on their learning?

The school that means business

Richard Garner heads to Lancashire, where developing the 'dragons' of the future is also helping one community academy to achieve its educational goals
10 best tablets

The world in your pocket: 10 best tablets

They’re thin, they’re light, you can use them for work on the move or keeping entertained
Lutz Pfannenstiel: The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents

Lutz Pfannenstiel interview

The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents
Pete Jenson: Popular Jürgen Klopp can reignite Borussia Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern Munich

Pete Jenson's a Different League

Popular Klopp can reignite Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern
John Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

The use of the British hostage demonstrates once again the militants' skill and originality in conducting a propaganda war, says Patrick Cockburn
The killer instinct: The man who helps students spot potential murderers

The killer instinct

Phil Chalmers travels the US warning students how to spot possible future murderers, but can his contentious methods really stop the bloodshed?
Clothing the gap: A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd

Clothing the gap

A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd
Fall of the Berlin Wall: Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain

The Fall of the Berlin Wall

Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain