Britain mourns murdered lawmaker; EU
referendum campaign in limbo
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[June 17, 2016]
By Elisabeth O'Leary
BIRSTALL, England (Reuters) - Britain
mourned lawmaker Jo Cox on Friday after a man wielding a gun and knife
killed the 41-year-old in an attack that has thrown a June 23 referendum
on European Union membership into limbo.
Cox, a supporter of Britain staying in the EU, was shot and
stabbed after a meeting with residents in her own constituency near
Leeds in northern England by a man who witnesses said had shouted
She was pronounced dead just over 48 minutes later by a doctor
working with a paramedic crew trying to save her life. A 52-year-old
man named by media as Thomas Mair was arrested by officers nearby
and weapons including a firearm were recovered.
The killing prompted campaigning to be suspended in the EU
referendum, the tone of which has become increasingly angry and
bitter and included personal recriminations as well as furious
debate of issues such as immigration and the economy.
Though the motives of the killer were not immediately clear, some
suggested sympathy for Cox could boost the Remain campaign which
opinion polls indicate had fallen behind Leave.
Police said they were not in a position to discuss the motive of the
"Jo believed in a better world and she fought for it every day of
her life with an energy and a zest for life that would exhaust most
people," Cox's husband, Brendan, said.
"She would have wanted two things above all else to happen now, one
that our precious children are bathed in love and two, that we all
unite to fight against the hatred that killed her."
A U.S. civil rights group the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC),
based in Alabama, said on its website that it had obtained records
showing a Thomas Mair had links with the neo-Nazi organization
National Alliance (NA) dating back to 1999.
The SPLC posted images showing what it said were purchase orders for
books bought by Mair, whose address is given as Batley, from the
NA's publishing arm National Vanguard Books in May of that year. The
orders included a manual on how to build a pistol, it said.
FLAGS AT HALF-MAST
Britain's Union flag was flying at half-mast over the Houses of
Parliament, Queen Elizabeth's London residence Buckingham Palace and
Downing Street, where Prime Minister David Cameron has his official
In Birstall hundreds of people attended a vigil at a local church.
Queen Elizabeth was due to write a private letter of condolence to
Some people, many weeping, laid flowers outside the Houses of
Parliament. Beside a picture of Cox smiling, dozens of white candles
lay beside bunches of flowers and a message board upon which people
had written their condolences.
"You can't kill democracy," read one message on Parliament Square.
Another said: "We will unite against hatred."
Others put flowers on the houseboat on the River Thames where Cox
had lived with her husband and two young children aged three and
Beside flowers at the murder scene in Birstall, a message read:
"Fascists feed on fear."
British politicians paid tribute to Cox and expressed shock at the
killing, as did leaders across Europe and the world.
Cameron said the killing of Cox, who had worked on U.S. President
Barack Obama's 2008 election campaign, was a tragedy.
"We have lost a great star," said Cameron, who called the
referendum. "She was a great campaigning MP with huge compassion,
with a big heart. It is dreadful, dreadful news."
Hillary Clinton said she was horrified. German Chancellor Angela
Merkel called the attack "terrible" but added that she didn't want
to link it to the EU referendum.
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Women arrive to leave a floral tribute near the scene of the murder
of Labour Member of Parliament Jo Cox in Birstal near Leeds, Britain
June 17, 2016 REUTERS/Phil Noble
It was not immediately clear when campaigning for the referendum
would resume. A spokesman for Vote Leave said they would clarify
plans later in the day.
The implied probability of a vote to remain rose to 67 percent, up
from 65 percent on Thursday, according to Betfair odds.
WHO KILLED COX?
Media reports, citing witnesses, said the attacker had shouted out
"Britain first", the name of a right-wing nationalist group that
describes itself on its website as "a patriotic political party and
street defense organization".
The deputy leader of the group, Jayda Fransen, distanced it from the
attack, which she described as "absolutely disgusting".
West Yorkshire's elected Police and Crime Commissioner said "our
information is that this is a localized incident, albeit one that
has a much wider impact".
Family members, including his brother, said that Mair had not
expressed strong political views, the Guardian newspaper reported.
"He has a history of mental illness but he has had help," the
Guardian quoted his brother, Scott Mair, as saying. "My brother is
not violent and is not all that political. I don't even know who he
Neighbors described a man who had lived in the same house for at
least 40 years and helped locals weed their flowerbeds and inquired
after their pets.
"I'm totally devastated - I didn't want to believe it. He's been
very helpful to me. Anything I asked him to do he did very willingly
and sometimes without my needing to ask," said next-door neighbor
Diana Peters, 65.
"I saw him the day before. I was taking my cats to the vet and he
came and asked me how they were," she said.
Gun ownership is highly restricted in Britain, and attacks of any
nature on public figures are rare. The last British lawmaker to have
been killed in an attack was Ian Gow, who died after a bomb planted
by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) exploded under his car at his
home in southern England in 1990.
Colleagues expressed shock and disbelief at the death of Cox, a
Cambridge University graduate who spent a decade working for aid
agency Oxfam and promoted women's issues.
"We've lost a wonderful woman, we've lost a wonderful member of
parliament, but our democracy will go on," Labour leader Jeremy
Corbyn said in a televised statement. "As we mourn her memory, we'll
work in her memory to achieve that better world she spent her life
trying to achieve."
(Additional reporting by Kylie MacLellan, Paul Sandle, Michael
Holden, Sarah Young, Andy Bruce, Kate Holton and Elizabeth Piper,
Writing by Guy Faulconbridge, Editing by Tmothy Heritage)
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