Brexit campaign on hold for second day after lawmaker murder

Members of the public sign a memorial to British MP Jo Cox in Parliament Square, London, on June 16, 2016.
Members of the public sign a memorial to British MP Jo Cox in Parliament Square, London, on June 16, 2016.PHOTO: EPA

LONDON (BLOOMBERG) - Both sides of the acrimonious debate over whether Britain should quit the European Union (EU) suspended campaigning for a second day on Friday (June 17) after the murder of Labour lawmaker Jo Cox, a strong advocate for voting to stay in next week's referendum.

"Vote Leave" and "Britain Stronger in Europe", the main campaign groups, put their activities on hold.

Events planned on Friday by the UK Independence Party, Economists for Brexit and Labour Leave were also cancelled. That follows scrapped speeches on Thursday by Prime Minister David Cameron, Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne and Bank of England Governor Mark Carney.

Cox, 41, was shot dead in the town of Birstall, northern England, in the early afternoon on Thursday. She was a fervent advocate of Britain remaining in Europe, as well as a champion of the poor and of Syrian refugees.

And while the debate over UK membership in the 28-nation bloc has been ongoing, it has grown especially rancorous in the past two weeks with politicians in Cameron's divided Conservative Party turning against one another.


Clarke Rothwell, an eyewitness to Cox's killing, said he had seen a man shoot and then stab her. "The words I heard him say was 'Britain First' or 'Put Britain First'," Rothwell said in a BBC television interview. "He shouted it at least twice."

Dee Collins, West Yorkshire Police's temporary chief constable, said in a televised news conference that police were "not in a position to discuss any motive." She said a 52-year-old man had been arrested and police were not looking for anyone else after recovering a number of weapons. The BBC said the man had been named locally as Tommy Mair.


Tributes to Cox, a widely admired young legislator, poured in.

"She was an exemplary MP, a real servant of democracy in every way one could want," Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said in a BBC television interview in Parliament Square, where lawmakers and well-wishers held a vigil with flowers and candles on Thursday evening. "What's happened is beyond appalling. We're here tonight in silent memory."

It was the first killing of a member of Parliament in more than two decades, since the days of Irish Republican terrorism. Cox was elected to the House of Commons last year and had campaigned passionately in favour of continued EU membership. On Wednesday, her husband, Brendan, had taken their two young children out onto the River Thames to fly an "IN" flag from a motorboat.

"She would have wanted two things above all else to happen now, one that our precious children are bathed in love, and two, that we all unite to fight against the hatred that killed her," he said in a statement. "Hate doesn't have a creed, race or religion, it is poisonous."

Writing in the Telegraph, Andrew Mitchell, Conservative lawmaker and former International Development Secretary, described Cox as "a force of nature, a five-foot bundle of Yorkshire grit and determination absolutely committed to helping other people".

Cameron, who was due to address a rally in favour of EU membership in Gibraltar, cancelled his address.

The International Monetary Fund said it was delaying a planned release of reports on the implications of the UK leaving the EU, while the polling company BMG said it would delay a referendum poll due to be published on Friday by 24 hours. The suspension of campaigning lifted the pound which fell in recent weeks as polls tightened.


Cox was killed outside the venue for one of her regular sessions at which constituents in the town of Birstall can seek advice and help.

"Britain First", which the arrested man is alleged to have shouted, is the name of a group that campaigns against immigration and Britain's EU membership. A video on the group's website showed activists learning combat techniques at a "training camp" in the Snowdonia mountains of North Wales.

In a statement on the site, the group said it "obviously is NOT involved and would never encourage behavior of this sort". Guns are very tightly controlled in the UK, and shootings are rare.

Since the end of the terrorism campaigns in Northern Ireland, there have been few attacks on lawmakers. In 2010, Labour's Stephen Timms was stabbed in the stomach by a constituent who had been radicalised by watching Islamic preachers online. He made a full recovery.

The last member of Parliament to be killed was Ian Gow, who was murdered by an Irish Republican Army bomb at his home in Sussex in 1990.

US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton said she was "horrified" by Cox's killing and called on the two democracies to stand together against hatred and violence. "This is how we must honor Jo Cox - by rejecting bigotry in all its forms, and instead embracing, as she always did, everything that binds us together," Clinton said.