'Death to traitors, freedom for Britain'

A court artist's sketch shows Mair appearing at London's Westminster Magistrates' Court yesterday.
A court artist's sketch shows Mair appearing at London's Westminster Magistrates' Court yesterday.PHOTO: REUTERS

That's the name alleged killer of British MP gives in first court appearance after arrest

LONDON • The man charged with murdering British lawmaker Jo Cox gave his name as "death to traitors, freedom for Britain" when he appeared in court yesterday accused of a killing that has left this week's vote on European Union membership in limbo.

The murder of Mrs Cox, a 41-year-old mother of two young children, has shocked Britain, elicited condolences from leaders around the world and raising questions about the tone of campaigning ahead of the EU referendum.

Mrs Cox, an ardent supporter of EU membership, was shot and stabbed in the street in her electoral district in northern England on Thursday.

Wearing a grey sweatshirt and trousers, and flanked by two security guards, 52-year-old Thomas Mair was asked his name by a clerk at Westminster Magistrates' Court in London.

"Death to traitors, freedom for Britain," Mair said.

When asked again what his name was, Mair calmly repeated: "My name is death to traitors, freedom for Britain."

Mair, balding with a grey goatee, made no further comment in the 15-minute hearing, his first appearance in public since police arrested him in the town of Birstall, Yorkshire, where Mrs Cox was killed.

He is charged with murder, causing grievous bodily harm, and possession of a firearm and a knife.

He was remanded in custody and will appear at London's Old Bailey court tomorrow.

Although the motive has not been determined, some politicians and commentators have pointed to the heated referendum debate, where sensitive issues like national identity and immigration have featured prominently.

A member of the opposition Labour Party and a former aid worker, Mrs Cox was also an advocate for refugee rights and immigration.

The killing has shocked the nation and both sides in the referendum have temporarily suspended campaigning ahead of Thursday's vote, which has far-reaching implications for both the EU and Britain.

A British exit from the EU would rock the bloc - already shaken by differences over migration and the future of the euro zone - by ripping away its second-largest economy, one of its top two military powers and by far its richest financial centre.

Pro-Europeans, including former prime ministers Tony Blair and John Major, have warned that an exit could also trigger the break-up of the United Kingdom by prompting another Scottish independence vote if England pulled Scotland out of the EU.

British Prime Minister David Cameron joined Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn on Friday to lay flowers in Birstall.

"It is a vile act that has killed her," Mr Corbyn said.

Mr Cameron has agreed to recall Parliament tomorrow to allow lawmakers to pay tribute to the popular Member of Parliament, who was elected only last year.

The killing has sparked debate in Britain, which has strict gun controls, about the safety of lawmakers, the heightened tempo of political confrontation and the possible impact on the EU vote.

Both sides in the referendum contest have put on hold their national campaigns until at least today.

Polls have suggested that the vote's outcome hangs in the balance, but in the last week a series of surveys indicated that the campaign to leave had taken the lead.

A telephone survey by BMG for Scotland's The Herald news- paper yesterday showed the "Remain" camp on 53 per cent and the "Leave" camp on 47 per cent, but a separate online poll by BMG showed "Leave" leading by 10 points, with 55 per cent support compared with 45 per cent for "Remain".

Both polls were carried out before the killing of Mrs Cox.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 19, 2016, with the headline ''Death to traitors, freedom for Britain''. Print Edition | Subscribe