British Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised on Monday that democracy would conquer “acts of evil”, as excited MPs praised his colleague David Amess after he was stabbed to death while meeting with voters.
Police are investigating whether a suspect arrested at the site of Friday’s attack on a church hall was motivated by Islamist extremism, fueling fears for the safety of elected officials.
Members of the House of Commons, most dressed in black, observed a minute’s silence at the beginning of a special debate. Then many called for an end to the bitterly divisive rhetoric that has escalated since the 2016 British Brexit referendum.
They recalled the conservative Amess bipartisan cooperation, his exuberant sense of humor, and his deep Catholic faith – one recalled him inadvertently receiving a package of cough drops blessed by the Pope on a visit to the Vatican.
“We will cherish your memory. We will celebrate his legacy, ”Johnson said at the debate, which ended with MPs introducing themselves in an inter-party procession to a religious memorial service.
“And we will never allow evildoers to triumph over the democracy and parliament that Sir David Amess meant so much,” he added.
Interior Minister Priti Patel ordered a review of security measures for MPs and promised to “close any gaps” in security provision.
‘Break my heart’
Amess was one of the oldest and most respected British MPs. He campaigned for a variety of causes, including obtaining city status for the East London coastal city of Southend, which he represented.
Queen Elizabeth II has now formally granted the request, Johnson said to cheers.
Earlier, Amess’s widow, Julia, and other members of her family visited the scene of the attack in Leigh-on-Sea, near Southend, wiping away tears as she reviewed a sea of floral tributes.
On Sunday, his family said they were “absolutely devastated” by his death and called for tolerance.
“Put aside hatred and work for unity. Whatever one’s race, religious or political beliefs, be tolerant and try to understand, ”they added, after the second murder of a UK politician in five years.
Jo Cox of the opposition Labor Party was assassinated by a far-right extremist just before the Brexit referendum in 2016.
Cox’s constituency in northern England is now represented by her sister, Kim Leadbeater, who recalled that in Monday’s debate she was “physically shaking” when told about the attack.
“And it breaks my heart to think that another family has had to experience that phone call and the nightmare that follows,” he said.
“It’s a deep trauma roller coaster that no one should have to experience.”
But the threats to parliamentarians have not stopped, especially to women.
Former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith said his staff had received a newspaper cover Monday featuring Amess and it was smeared with the handwritten words “like you, you bastard.”
Labor MP Chris Bryant said he notified police of another death threat on Saturday, having urged more civility in politics.
Bryant attributed the increase in abuse to Brexit and anti-vaccine protests.
Closing the debate, Labor Rupa Huq lovingly paused to share a recent overseas trip to Qatar – Amess’ last as a MP – and urged his colleagues to follow his example of “being less angry and more supportive.”
Last month, Labor Party Deputy Leader Angela Rayner unleashed a storm of protests after describing conservatives as “scum.”
But critics have also long condemned Johnson’s provocative language against a variety of targets in print and in speeches.
Police have until Friday to charge the 25-year-old man who was detained at the scene.
Detectives have stated that the killing was a terrorist incident and said they were investigating “a possible motivation linked to Islamist extremism.”
British media, citing official sources, have identified the suspect as Ali Harbi Ali, a British citizen of Somali descent from London.
Before the attack, the suspect had been referred to Prevent, the official counter-terrorism plan for those thought to be at risk of radicalization, according to reports.
His father is a former first ministerial adviser to Somalia and his uncle is the East African country’s ambassador to China, while his aunt heads a group of security experts in Mogadishu, the war-torn Somali capital, the reports added.