Killing of MP Jo Cox halts Brexit campaigning in UK

Campaigning for June 23 referendum suspended after pro-EU campaigner Jo Cox, 41, is shot dead in northern England.

Campaigning for Britain’s EU referendum scheduled for next week has been suspended for a second day as the nation reels from the murder of a popular pro-Europe MP.

On Thursday, Jo Cox, a 41-year-old former aid worker and pro-EU campaigner known for her advocacy on behalf of Syrian refugees, was killed outside a library where she regularly met constituents in her home village of Birstall, in northern England.

Witnesses told local media that the Labour MP had been repeatedly shot and stabbed.

Following the attack, both sides in Britain’s June 23 referendum on leaving or staying within the EU said they were suspending their campaigns, while David Cameron, the prime minister, pulled out of a planned rally in Gibraltar.

The Stronger in Europe camp said it was “suspending all campaigning” for Thursday and Friday, while a spokesperson for the rival Vote Leave group, which is backing the so-called Brexit, said their “battle bus” was returning to headquarters.

READ MORE: British opposition MP Jo Cox dies after being shot

Thursday’s murder overshadowed a by-election victory by Cox’s opposition Labour Party on Friday morning in the London district of Tooting.

“Given the horrific events of today and the shocking death of Jo Cox, I do not intend to make a speech,” the newly elected MP Rosena Allin-Khan told a subdued counting centre.

“Jo’s death reminds us that our democracy is precious but fragile, we must never forget to cherish it.”

Earlier on Thursday, dozens gathered outside the Houses of Parliament in a vigil to remember Cox, including Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, who was flanked by tearful party colleagues.

“What’s happened is beyond appalling. We are here in silent memory of her loss,” said Corbyn.

 Dozens gathered outside the Houses of Parliament in a vigil to remember Cox [Neil Hall/Reuters]
 Dozens gathered outside the Houses of Parliament in a vigil to remember Cox [Neil Hall/Reuters]

“She was a fearless campaigner, and a voice for the voiceless. We feel shaken,” said Fatima Ibrahim, 23, an activist with Avaaz.

On the quaint streets of Birstall, the scene of the attack was cordoned off and police could be seen examining a shoe and a handbag. Mourners left flowers nearby in tribute.

Police said an investigation was under way to determine the motive of the murder, the first killing of an MP since Ian Gow was murdered by a car bomb planted by the Irish Republican Army in 1990.

Far-right connections

There were some indications that the man named by British media as the attacker, 52-year-old Thomas Mair, may have had extreme right-wing leanings.

One witness, cafe owner Clarke Rothwell, told the UK’s Press Association that the attacker had shouted “Put Britain first!” repeatedly during the attack.

“Britain First” is the name of a far-right anti-immigration group, which released a statement after the attack saying it was “obviously not involved” and “would never encourage behaviour of this sort”.

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Mair’s brother, Scott Mair, told The Daily Telegraph that Thomas “is not violent and is not all that political”.

“He has a history of mental illness, but he has had help,” Scott Mair said.

Following the attack, commentators have questioned whether the tone of the EU referendum campaign had stirred up ugly currents.

Before the suspension of the campaign, polls had indicated the result of the referendum could be on a knife-edge following an uptick in support for the pro-Leave side.

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As the news of Cox’s death broke, her husband 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.”

Birstall residents attended a vigil in memory of Jo Cox at St Peter's Church [Phil Noble/Reuters]
Birstall residents attended a vigil in memory of Jo Cox at St Peter’s Church [Phil Noble/Reuters]
Source: News Agencies