Leaders from across the political spectrum came together Saturday to pay tribute to a long-serving British lawmaker who was stabbed to death in what police have described as a terrorist incident.
Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the leader of the main opposition Labour Party, Keir Starmer, and the non-partisan speaker of the House of Commons, Lindsay Hoyle, arrived at the church where David Amess was stabbed multiple times while meeting with constituents. A 25-year-old British man is in custody over the attack.
The politicians went up individually to the front of Belfairs Methodist Church in Leigh-on-Sea, a town about 40 miles (62 kilometers) east of London to pay their respects to the Conservative lawmaker, who had been a member of the British Parliament since 1983. After laying flowers, they returned to their vehicles, escorted by a police convoy.
In a statement early Saturday, the Metropolitan Police described the attack as terrorism and said the early investigation “has revealed a potential motivation linked to Islamist extremism.” It did not provide any details about the basis for that assessment.
As part of the investigation, officers were searching two locations in the London area, the police force said.
Authorities have not identified the suspect, who was held on suspicion of murder. Police said they believed the suspect acted alone, and were not seeking anyone else in connection with the killing, though investigations continue.
Amess, 69, was attacked around midday Friday. Paramedics tried without success to save him. Police arrested the suspect and recovered a knife.
Amess, a popular lawmaker, did not serve as a government minister during his long career. Though he was a social conservative on issues such as capital punishment and abortion, he had a reputation of being a fixer in Parliament, of being able to forge alliances across the political divide.
He died doing what he most cherished _ helping out residents in his seaside constituency of Southend West. Under Britain’s parliamentary system, lawmakers have direct links with their local voters, often hosting open meetings, or “surgeries,” on Fridays to listen to their concerns.
The meetings often take place in local facilities, such as churches and community halls and are often publicly advertised. Amess himself posted online where he would be hosting his surgery on Friday.
The topics raised by constituents can range from national matters such as the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic to more mundane issues such as requests for speed bumps on busy roads or a dispute over the location of a neighbor’s fence.
While members of Parliament don’t necessarily have the power to fix the problems brought to them, they can use their positions and access to pressure officials at the national and local levels to get things done.
“He was killed doing a job that he loves, serving his own constituents as an elected democratic member and, of course, acts of this are absolutely wrong, and we cannot let that get in the way of our functioning democracy,” British Home Secretary Priti Patel said after she also paid tribute to Amess at the church where he died.
Patel said she has convened meetings with the House speaker, police departments and U.K. security services “to make sure that all measures are being put in place for the security of MPs so that they can carry on with their duties as elected democratic members.”
Amess’ slaying came five years after another MP, Jo Cox, was murdered by a far-right extremist in her small-town constituency. Friday’s killing killing has renewed concern about the risks politicians run as they go about their work representing voters. British politicians generally are not given police protection when they meet with their constituents.
Tobias Ellwood, a leading Conservative lawmaker who gave first aid to a police officer stabbed at the gates of Parliament in 2017, said face-to-face meetings with voters should be temporarily paused pending the security review.
Veteran Labour lawmaker Harriet Harman said she planned to write to the prime minister to ask him to back what is known as a Speaker’s Conference to review the safety of parliamentarians.
“I think that, while we anguish about this dreadful loss, we can’t just assert that nothing should change,” Harman told BBC radio. “I don’t think anybody wants to go to a situation where the police are vetting individual constituents who come and see us, but I’m sure there is a safer way to go about our business.”
Under a Speaker’s Conference, the speaker brings together political parties and authorities to come up with non-partisan recommendations. They occur rarely, about once every 10 years.
“Since Jo Cox’s tragic killing, we’ve had changes in our home security, we’ve had changes in security in Parliament, but we haven’t looked at the issue of how we go about that important business in our constituency, but do it in a safe way _ and I think we must do that now,” Harman said.
Pylas contributed from London.