U.K. MP’s Murder Called Terrorism, Safety Review Ordered
(Bloomberg) -- U.K. Home Secretary Priti Patel ordered a review of police security for members of Parliament after Conservative MP David Amess was fatally stabbed at a meeting in his constituency.
The attack revives questions about the safety of lawmakers meeting face-to-face with residents in their districts, usually with little security. A 25-year-old U.K. national was arrested on suspicion of murder, which authorities late Friday declared as a terrorist incident. Police are also carrying out searches at two addresses in the London area.
“The early investigation has revealed a potential motivation linked to Islamist extremism,” the Metropolitan Police said in a statement. “It is believed that he acted alone, and we are not seeking anyone else in connection with the incident at this time.”
It’s the second time in five years that a British MP has been murdered in public after Jo Cox was killed while attending such a so-called constituency surgery in 2016. Another Labour MP, Stephen Timms, suffered near-fatal injuries during a stabbing in 2010.
The events are held by most MPs in their constituency once a week, usually on a Friday, and allow residents to ask them to take up issues on their behalf.
“The Home Secretary has asked all police forces to review security arrangements for MPs with immediate effect and will provide updates in due course,” Kelsey Stubbs, a spokesperson for Patel, said in a statement.
Patel visited the scene at Belfairs Methodist Church in Leigh-on-Sea on Saturday alongside Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Labour leader Keir Starmer to pay their respects to Sir David.
“We will carry on, we live in an open society, a democracy,” Patel said at Southend police station, according to the Press Association news service. “We cannot be cowed by any individual or any motivation.”
Tory MP Tobias Ellwood, chair of the Defense Select Committee, said Saturday that face-to-face meetings between MPs and the public should be suspended while the investigation continues, and until new safety protocols are put forward.
“We’ve got to think not just of the safety of MPs of course, there were other people in that church that would have been traumatized, and lives were in danger, not knowing how the events would unfold,” Ellwood said on Times Radio.
In 2000, former Liberal Democrat MP Nigel Jones was attacked with a Samurai sword at his constituency office and his assistant Andrew Pennington died trying to defend him.
Veteran Labour MP and former Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett called for a review and said she wasn’t sure if she’d return to doing in-person meetings with constituents.
“I will have to take advice about it,” she said on Times Radio on Friday. “I think we all should.”
MPs could be advised to limit meetings with constituents to Parliament, where visitors must pass through a metal detector. However, moves to scale back direct contact with voters may be greeted with dismay by some politicians who relish the opportunity for face-to-face meetings.
Amess, in his 2020 book “Ayes and Ears: A Survivor’s Guide to Westminster,” wrote that increasing numbers of attacks on MPs in recent years had “rather spoilt the great British tradition of the people openly meeting their elected politicians.”
In the British political system, members of Parliament are elected to represent a local area and to champion its cause. MPs work hard to gain prominence locally and constituency meetings help them do so.
They also have teams of case workers who help constituents with the problems that they raise. These can range from complaints about potholed streets and school funding to requests for help in accessing welfare payments or navigating government bureaucracy.
Amess’s slaying follows the death of Conservative MP James Brokenshire from lung cancer last week. It means that two by-elections will be held in the coming months, in Amess’s seat of Southend West and Brokenshire’s seat of Old Bexley and Sidcup, both in southeast England.
With big Conservative majorities in both constituencies, Johnson is unlikely to have trouble defending them, not least because opposition is likely to be muted given the tragic circumstances.
Party politics is likely to be put aside for some time, with lawmakers being more careful with rhetoric against their opponents.
Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner was criticized on Twitter for her tribute to Amess after she called Conservative ministers “scum” at an event at Labour’s annual conference last month.
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