South Northamptonshire MP Andrea Leadsom - one of the most vociferous campaigners against the HS2 rail link - did not vote in the amendment debate on the controversial scheme last night.
Mrs Leadsom, who was recently promoted to the position of Treasury Minister, was called to a meeting in Brussels which meant she could not take part in the debate. She joined a number of high-profile ministers who did not vote.
Foreign Office Minister David Lidington, who has come under intense criticism in his consituency of Aylesbury for not joining other Tories who objected to the scheme, was also absent after he went to a meeting in Estonia.
Meanwhile, Brian Binley, MP for Northampton South, and Michael Ellis, MP for Northampton North, both supported the HS2 link, which will now go ahead as planned in 2017.
Peter Bone, MP for Wellingborough, and Philip Hollobone, MP for Kettering, both voted against the scheme. In all, 33 Tory MPs voted against the plans in defiance of the Government whips.
Daventry MP Chris Heaton-Harris did not vote.
Writing in a blog on March 27, Mrs Leadsom referred to a meeting with the new chairman of HS2 Ltd, Sir David Higgins, during which he made it clear there would be no plans to discuss substantial changes to the route of phase one, which passes through her constituency.
She wrote: “This was very disappointing news.
“I am disappointed that as the reasons for HS2 have changed so many times and are now about capacity and connectivity rather than speed, Sir David is not open to re-evaluating whether the route is correct. It also makes clear that he has insufficient consideration for the environmental impact of HS2.
“My fight against HS2 goes on. Until there is a dramatic rethink about HS2, I will continue to fight for generous compensation and effective mitigation to help those substantially affected by HS2 to move on with their lives.”
Speaking after the vote, rebel ringleader Cheryl Gillan MP said: “This is a large number of MPs unconvinced that HS2 is the solution to our country’s infrastructure problems. Government should realise that this project will be closely scrutinised every step of the way.
“Many colleagues also abstained this evening which shows that the scepticism of this project runs much more deeply than the voting figures suggest.”
Welcoming the news the Bill cleared its first hurdle, Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said: “By voting in favour of the hybrid Bill, Parliament has made a clear commitment to a key part of the Government’s long-term economic plan.
“HS2 is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to create jobs and develop skills, provide the extra space we need on our rail network for commuters and freight, and better connect our biggest cities.
“I am aware of the concerns some who live very close to the HS2 route have. I am confident however that by working together we can ensure this vital new north-south railway is designed in the right way, and we will have spades in the ground in 2017 as planned.”