Syria vote: The shocks and surprises of how Christian MPs voted on air strikes

Christian MPs were divided yesterday as a packed House of Commons decided whether to support British air strikes against ISIS in Syria. 

Before the debate concluded both the Archbishop of Canterbury and the head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales had offered their cautious and qualified support with Justin Welby telling the House of Lords strikes would meet the 'just war' criteria.

However there was no such consensus among Christian MPs and when it came to the main vote shortly after 10pm last night, a large number of Christians walked into seperate lobbies to have their say. 

RAF Tornados have bombed targets in Syria immediately after yesterday's Commons vote.Reuters

Of particular interest was Stephen Timms, chair of Christians on the Left, who hinted beforehand he would support air strikes before unusually changing his mind as the debate went on. Having been a strong supporter of military intervention in the past, Timms' change of heart reflected a growing lack of confidence in the government's strategy. 

One fellow Christian in the Labour party, David Lammy, MP for Tottenham and another traditional supporter of military intervention, also broke with his usual pattern and voted against air strikes. He insisted he is "not a pacifist" and agreed that with bombing "ISIS will be hurt, their capacity diminished and their resources cut." However Lammy said he had "very real concerns about the medium and long-term strategy for Syria."

"We have been set a trap by a group of people who are utterly committed to waging a war with the West – a trap to tempt the West into that war," the north London MP said in a statement.

"By responding in the way the Prime Minister is today proposing, I fear we are walking right into the very trap that has been sent for us."

Stephen Timms, chair of Christians on the Left, changed his mind at the last minute to vote against the strikesReuters

Timms and Lammy were among 153 Labour MPs to vote with their leader Jeremy Corbyn against the strikes.

They were joined by all the Scottish National Party's MPs including Catholic MP for Falkirk, John McNally.

"Simply put, I don't think more bombing will resolve anything," he told Christian Today as the debate was concluding.

On the other side of the House of Commons there were also a number of Christian Conservative MPs who followed David Cameron's lead and supported the motion.

After being non-committal and uncertain before the vote, Fiona Bruce, MP for Congleton, who rebelled in 2013 and voted against intervention in Syria, supported the air strikes this time.

Other Tory Christian MPs were more assured in their support of Cameron's motion.

David Burrowes, MP for Enfield Southgate,  was especially vociferous in his questioning of opponents to the motion. At one stage he became particularly irritated and told Angus Robertson to "answer the question," when the SNP's Westminster leader refused to say whether he supported French and US action in Syria. 

Gary Streeter, MP for south-west Devon and John Glen, MP for Salisbury, also voiced their support with Streeter saying it was "just and right" and Glen saying that although he had a "degree of apprehension," he had "absolute clarity in my conscience that supporting this motion is the right thing to do."

More unusually, the government received support from most Liberal Democrat MPs, led by evangelical Christian Tim Farron. Alongside fellow Christian Lib Dems, John Pugh and Greg Mullholland, Farron said despite his instincts being "anti-war and anti-conflict," he believed "on balance it is right to take military action to degrade and to defeat this evil death cult."

As well as those MPs who supported their respective leaders, it was also interesting to note that a number of Christian MPs across the political spectrum voted against the wishes of their party leaders.

Among the seven Conservative rebels, the Catholic MP for Stevenage, Stephen McPartland had vowed to "vote against military action in Syria" and did so.

And the long list of 66 Labour MPs to vote with Cameron is dotted with Christian figures. Ben Bradshaw, MP for Exeter, indicated beforehand he would support "the RAF extending its existing action against Daesh (ISIS) to Syria" and voted accordingly last night.

He was joined in the "aye" lobby by fellow Christian Labour MPs, Frank Field, Chris Bryant, John Woodcock, Jon Cruddas, Neil Coyle and Susan Elan Jones among others.

The ten and a half hour debate was generally hailed as high quality and MPs were praised for their non-partisan remarks although David Cameron received strong criticism for comparing those voting against the motion to "terrorist sympathisers" in a private meeting the night before the vote.

So despite the apparent consensus between the Anglican and Catholic leaders in England, there was no "Christian vote" on air strikes in Syria. Just as there have been debates and disagreements between Christians in churches and online over the last few days, so Christian MPs also strongly disagreed last night over whether bombing ISIS in Syria was the right way to tackle terror.