The MEPs thought they were voting on South Africa, because interpreters did not have time to translate the motion's title.
The nine Tory MEPs, belonging to the European People's Party, intended to vote against the motion, along with eight of their party who did oppose it. The nine included the group's leader, Sir Christopher Prout, and the Chief Whip, Richard Simmonds. All the other MEPs, apart from two extreme right-wingers from Belgium and Germany, voted in favour of extending the moratorium on testing to include Britain and China.
In a letter to the president of the European Parliament, Mr Simmonds said 'neither I nor any of my colleagues had any intention whatsoever of supporting the latter resolution, which concerned a ban on nuclear testing'. He said the confusion was caused by the 'extreme rapidity with which the votes were taken'.
The letter continued: 'I recognise and support the need to expedite our business but on this occasion I feel that there was insufficient time allowed for interpreters to translate the name of the report.'
The debate on South Africa followed that on nuclear testing. The South African vote was taken immediately, followed by that on the preceding debate. Mr Simmonds said last night that a division in the House of Commons took 17 minutes, whereas at Strasbourg it took less than 17 seconds.
The European Parliament's decisions are not binding, but the size of the majority - 197 to 10 - indicated overwhelming support for a complete ban.Reuse content