Britain recalls Parliament to pay tribute to slain MP Jo Cox; leaders make rare joint appearance at attack site

British Prime Minister David Cameron (centre) and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn (second from right) preparing to lay flowers in memory of slain Labour MP Jo Cox, in Birstall, on June 17.
British Prime Minister David Cameron (centre) and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn (second from right) preparing to lay flowers in memory of slain Labour MP Jo Cox, in Birstall, on June 17.PHOTO: AFP

LONDON (Bloomberg) - Britain recalled Parliament on Monday (June 20) to pay tribute to murdered Labour Party lawmaker Jo Cox, as political leaders urged unity after weeks of acrimonious campaigning over membership of the European Union.

Prime Minister David Cameron and opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn made a rare joint appearance on Friday at the site of the attack to praise Mrs Cox and call for restraint in the referendum debate. Campaigning for the June 23 vote has been suspended since her death was announced.

"We should value and see as precious the democracy we have on these islands where 65 million of us live together, work together and get on together," Mr Cameron said after laying flowers with Mr Corbyn at the spot where Mrs Cox was shot. "It is all underpinned by tolerance, so where we see hatred, where we find division, where we see intolerance, we must drive it out of public life, out of our communities."

Mr Cameron's Conservatives also said they won't contest Mrs Cox's seat in the special election to replace her.

Mrs Cox, 41, was killed in the town of Birstall, northern England, in the early afternoon on Thursday. She was a fervent supporter of Britain remaining in the EU, as well as a champion of the poor and of Syrian refugees.

Her murder followed an increasingly rancorous debate over the referendum, with some opinion polls putting the "Leave" campaign ahead by several percentage points.

Police arrested a 52-year-old man after the attack, and media reports have linked him with anti-immigration organisations and white supremacist groups in the US and South Africa. Some media outlets also reported that the attacker shouted "Britain first" as Mrs Cox was shot and stabbed.

The suspect's far-right ties are "a priority line of inquiry" and reports that he had contact with mental-health services in the past are also under investigation, local police chief Dee Collins said on Friday.

There is no indication anyone else was involved in the attack, she said.

Mr Corbyn said Parliament will pay tribute to "an exceptional, wonderful, very talented woman, taken from us in her early 40s when she had so much to give".

The legislature has been in pre-referendum recess since Wednesday.

"It's an attack on democracy," Mr Corbyn said. "It's the well of hatred that killed her."

The appearance by Mr Corbyn alongside Mr Cameron was a show of unity by two men who have yet to campaign together despite both supporting a "Remain" vote.

Events planned by the two main campaign groups have been cancelled, while publication of opinion polls and an International Monetary Fund report were delayed.

Mr Cameron, Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne and Bank of England Governor Mark Carney all cancelled or shortened public appearances on Thursday.

Reactions to Mrs Cox's death spread beyond Britain's borders, with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and United States presidential candidate Hillary Clinton among those commenting.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the killing underlined the need to engage with others of differing political views with respect, urging an end to the "total exaggeration and radicalization" of political debate.

The UK's Brexit debate will get back under way this weekend. Mr Cameron is due to appear on Sunday evening on a special edition of BBC Television's "Question Time" show, following a morning appearance by his pro-Brexit Justice Secretary Michael Gove, and by Mr Corbyn on the BBC's "Andrew Marr" programme.

On Saturday morning, BMG Research published a telephone poll showing "Remain" was ahead of "Leave" by 46 per cent to 43 per cent, with 11 per cent undecided or preferring not to say. The survey was conducted before Mrs Cox's murder and was originally scheduled to be released on Friday.

Also on Saturday, the International Monetary Fund released a report saying the UK "would likely be worse off economically in the long run" if it decides to exit the European Union. Publication of the 64-page document had also been delayed by a day.

"Membership in the EU has made the UK a richer economy, but it has also made it a more diverse, more exciting, and more creative country," IMF managing director Christine Lagarde said Friday in Vienna. "I have always admired the United Kingdom for its openness to other nationalities and foreign cultures, and I find it hard to believe that attitudes have changed in such a short time."

Mrs Cox, who worked for charities including Oxfam and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation before running for office, celebrated Britain's diversity in her first speech to Parliament after being elected in May last year and repeatedly raised the plight of refugees from the war in Syria.

"Parliament has lost one of its most passionate and brilliant campaigners," Mr Cameron said. "If we truly want to honor Jo, then what we should do is to recognize that her values - service, community, tolerance - the values she lived by and worked by, those are the values that we need to redouble in our national life in the months and years to come."