Syrian airstrikes: Sunderland MPs speak out about toughest decisions of their careers

Sharon Hodgson.

Sharon Hodgson.

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The two Sunderland MPs who voted against extending airstrikes in Syria in last night’s heated Commons debate have spoken out about their decisions.

Washington and Sunderland West MP Sharon Hodgson and Sunderland Central MP Julie Elliott were among the 153 Labour MPs who voted with party leader Jeremy Corbyn against the airstrikes.

In a statement, Mrs Hodgson said she had listened to the views of her constituents when coming to what she’s dubbed ‘the hardest decision’ in her 10 years as an MP.

Julie Elliott too said it was a decision which had weighed heavily on her conscience.

Mrs Hodgson said: “Over the past week, I have received hundreds of messages from constituents, through social media, email and phoning my office, asking for me to vote against the Government’s proposed air strikes on IS/Daesh.

“No one, who has watched the scenes coming out of Iraq and Syria on our TV screens, can fail to be shocked and appalled by the actions of IS/Daesh towards ethnic and religious minorities in the lands that they have brutally overtaken, the women and LGBT people they have persecuted, crucified and beheaded or the Muslims they have silenced, tortured and executed just because they have been brave enough to stand up against IS’s hate-fuelled interpretation of Islam.

Julie Elliott

Julie Elliott

“The decision to extend military action into Syria has been a hard decision, where both sides of the argument must be weighed carefully. All military action must be contemplated with the full facts, serious discussions and with decisions never to be taken lightly.

“That is why I decided to vote against the Government’s motion to bomb IS/Daesh in Syria, as I felt the facts put before us by the Prime Minister were not convincing enough to enter into what is a very complicated situation in Syria.”

Speaking about her vote, Ms Elliott said: “This is an issue which has weighed heavily on my conscience and I have deliberated over this decision more than any other since I was elected as your Member of Parliament in 2010. This matter is too serious to be turned into an issue of personalities and, in particular, of support or otherwise for the leader of the Labour party – it is nothing to do with that.

“This is the most serious issue I have been asked to make a decision on since becoming an MP – that of the very real threat of ISIL to our communities, an issue of national security. My priority in making this decision is firstly to do what is best for my constituents of Sunderland Central and, secondly, the wider United Kingdom.

“I listened carefully to the case the Prime Minister made to Parliament last week and since then, I have attended various briefings on the issue. I have also received hundreds of emails, phone calls and messages on social media from constituents both for and against military action. I have also spoken to a wide range of party members and constituents to help inform my decision.

She added: “At present, I do not believe that the answer to eradicating this evil is to rush to war. There must be a comprehensive strategy in place to bring about an end to the Syrian civil war and defeat ISIL. I am not convinced that extending air strikes into Syria will make our country safer nor will they destroy ISIL.

“In the end, my decision to vote against the extension of military airstrikes against ISIL in Syria came down to a failure of the Government to satisfy me that there was a coherent plan of what would follow airstrikes. Their talk of 70,000 ground troops made up of a combination of the ‘Free Syrian Army’ plus other moderate groups signed up to ‘Geneva 1’ was simply not convincing.

“ISIL cannot be defeated by airstrikes alone. There needs to be more action by the international community to tackle sources of funding and arms for ISIL. Without a wider strategic plan, the Government’s decision may make a desperate situation much worse.”