Man charged with murder of British MP Jo Cox says in court: 'My name is death to traitors, freedom for Britain'

A convoy of police vehicles believed to be transporting Tommy Mair arrives at Westminster Magistrates Court in London on Saturday, June 18, 2016.
A convoy of police vehicles believed to be transporting Tommy Mair arrives at Westminster Magistrates Court in London on Saturday, June 18, 2016.PHOTO: EPA

LONDON (Reuters) - When asked his name in a London court, the man charged with the murder of British lawmaker Jo Cox said: "My name is death to traitors, freedom for Britain."

Thomas Mair, 52, appeared in Westminster Magistrates' Court charged with the murder of Mrs Cox, an attack that has shocked Britain and brought a temporary halt to campaigning ahead of next week's referendum on European Union membership.

Wearing grey sports clothing and flanked by two security guards, Mair was charged with murder, causing grievous bodily harm, and possession of a firearm and another offensive weapon.

Mrs Cox, 41-year-old member of the opposition Labour Party who supported Britain staying in the European Union, was shot and stabbed to death in the street in her own electoral district in northern England on Thursday.

Mrs Cox, married with two young children, was preparing to hold a regular session to give advice to her constituents.

A 77-year-old man who intervened to try to protect Mrs Cox is in hospital after suffering a serious abdominal injury.

Mrs Cox's killing has shocked the nation, uniting politicians and leading to the suspension of hostilities in what had become increasingly bitter campaigning ahead of the June 23 referendum on Britain's EU membership.

 

On Friday, Prime Minister David Cameron joined Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn in laying flowers in Birstall. "It is a vile act that has killed her," Mr Corbyn said.

Mr Cameron has agreed to recall Parliament on Monday to allow lawmakers to pay tributes to the popular Member of Parliament, who was only elected in 2015.

The murder has sparked debate in Britain, which has strict gun controls, about the safety of lawmakers, the heightened tempo of political confrontation and whether it would affect the outcome of the EU vote.

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

Polls have suggested the vote hangs in the balance, but in the last week had indicated that the campaign to leave had been taking the lead.

A telephone survey by BMG for Scotland's The Herald newspaper on Saturday showed the "In" camp on 53 per cent and"Out" on 47 per cent, although a separate online poll by BMG showed Out leading by 10 points, with 55 per cent support compared to In's 45 per cent. Both polls were carried out before the killing of Mrs Cox.

Those wanting to stay in the EU can count on the support of many of Britain's biggest businesses, most economists and foreign leaders such as US President Barack Obama, who spoke to Mrs Cox's husband on Friday to offer condolences on behalf of the American people.

The International Monetary Fund, which has previously warned that Britain and the world economy could be hit by a so-called Brexit, said on Saturday an exit could leave Britain's economy more than 5 per cent smaller by 2019.

However, the "Out" campaign's message that EU membership is responsible for a loss of political control as well as uncontrolled immigration has appeared to have struck a chord with many Britons.

Both sides have accused each other of making up facts to support their arguments, and the debates had become more heated and personal in the days leading up to Mrs Cox's death, with London Mayor Sadiq Khan telling Sky News politics had become"poisonous".

Mrs Cox had arrived in Birstall for a "surgery" in a library with members of the public, a one-to-one meeting much like when a patient consults a doctor.

In Westminster, where lawmakers do much of their work in Parliament, armed police patrol the entrances, corridors and halls but there is often no security in their home electoral districts, or constituencies.

The last British lawmaker to have been killed was Ian Gow, who died after an Irish Republican Army (IRA) bomb exploded under his car at his home in 1990.

The Daily Telegraph newspaper reported that female MPs had repeatedly raised concerns about their security with Mr Cameron's office, with one writing to say if it was not improved there would be a "tragic fatality".

Police have said they had reiterated advice and guidance to MPs, some of whom have cancelled surgeries after Mrs Cox's death.

Leaders across Europe and the world have expressed shock at the killing of Mrs Cox, a former charity worker whose job took her to countries such as Afghanistan and Darfur.