Britain’s prime minister urged on Friday (Jun 17) greater tolerance in public debate after the killing of lawmaker Jo Cox, as police said they were investigating the suspected attacker’s mental health and far-right links.
Parliament also recalled MPs for a commemoration on Monday and, as a mark of respect, both sides in the EU referendum extended until Saturday a halt in campaigning before a hugely divisive vote on Jun 23.
Prime Minister David Cameron and opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn laid bouquets at a massive floral tribute to Cox in the northern village of Birstall, where she was shot and stabbed in a ferocious attack on Thursday.
A 52-year-old is in custody, named by British media as local man Thomas Mair.
“Where we see hatred, where we find division, where we see intolerance, we must drive it out of our politics and out of our public life and out of our communities,” Cameron said. “Today our nation is rightly shocked,” he said.
‘VITRIOL’ IN EU CAMPAIGN
West Yorkshire Police Chief Constable Dee Collins called it “an isolated, but targeted attack”, saying the 41-year-old mother of two had been on her way to a meeting with constituents at the local library.
The suspect’s mental health was a “clear line of enquiry” and reports linking him to right-wing extremists were “again a priority line of enquiry which will help us establish the motive”, she said.
The Guardian earlier reported that police had found “samples of Nazi regalia and far-right literature” during a search of the suspect’s house.
US advocacy group the Southern Poverty Law Center said Mair supported National Alliance, once the primary neo-Nazi organisation in the United States.
It said he had bought reading material from the National Alliance, which advocated the creation of an all-white homeland and the eradication of Jewish people.
He had also purchased a handbook on how to make a gun. Witnesses told British media the assailant used a gun which appeared “old-fashioned” or “homemade”.
Many commentators have questioned whether the killing could be linked to the EU vote, which has stoked tensions by touching on issues of national identity and immigration and has featured populist slogans.
“I hope between now and 10pm on Thursday (when the polls close) the campaign is conducted in a different environment than it has been conducted up until now,” London Mayor Sadiq Khan told LBC radio.
“We don’t know the facts surrounding Jo’s death. What we do know is there is a environment of hatred, of poison, of negativity, of cynicism.”
In Berlin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged the politicians to tone down the debate, saying: “The exaggerations and radicalisation of… language do not help to foster an atmosphere of respect.”
Before Cox’s murder, opinion polls suggested Britons would likely vote to leave the EU, in a prospect that sent the pound tumbling on financial markets.
Since the killing, European and Asian stock markets rebounded strongly and the pound was firmer, lifted in part by expectations that Britain will now stay in.
“The suspension of campaigning for the UK EU referendum after the tragic death of Labour MP Jo Cox boosted risk appetite,” said Nick Stamenkovic, an analyst at broker RIA Capital Markets.
SCRUBBED HIS HANDS WITH BRILLO
Cox, a former aid worker who was campaigning for Britain to stay in the EU and also spoke out for Syrian refugees, was killed just a few miles (kilometres) from where she was born.
Eyewitness Hichem Ben Abdallah, 56, told AFP he heard two shots and saw the petite woman on the ground.
“Her face was full of blood,” said Ben Abdallah, who campaigned alongside the Labour politician before she was elected to parliament for the first time last year.
Described as a friendly loner by neighbours, Mair suffered from obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), according to Stephen Lees, a friend of Mair’s brother.
“He used to scrub his hands with Brillo pads and nail brushes until they were red raw,” he told AFP.
Cox was the first British MP to be murdered since Ian Gow was killed by Irish Republican Army paramilitaries in a car bomb in 1990.
Cox, whose first speech in parliament defended immigration and diversity, lived with her husband Brendan and their two children aged three and five, on a houseboat on the Thames near Tower Bridge.
As the news of her death broke, Brendan issued an impassioned appeal for unity against hatred.
“She would have wanted two things above all else to happen now,” he wrote. “One, that our precious children are bathed in love and two, that we all unite to fight against the hatred that killed her.”