Britain’s most senior politicians united today to lay flowers and express their grief following the death of Sir David Amess in a knife attack.
Home Secretary Priti Patel today issued a defiant message, saying the UK and its democracy ‘cannot be cowed’ – as Members of Parliament vowed to carry on holding face-to-face public meetings.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson, leader of the Labour party Sir Keir Starmer and Speaker of the Commons Sir Lindsay Hoyle were among those leaving flowers and written notes of support on a grass bank near Belfairs Methodist Church in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, today.
On Friday afternoon, horrified constituents waiting to see Sir David stabbed at a surgery inside the church. Police say they are treating it as a terrorist incident.
Two vigils have been held. Constituents last night went to St Peters Church in Leigh-on-Sea to shed a tear at the shocking death of their beloved MP and on Saturday afternoon dozens of well-wishers lit candles and gathered to remember the life of Sir David outside the town’s Civic Centre.
The terror suspect – thought to be a 25-year-old Briton of Somali descent who lived in the Southend West area – was arrested on suspicion of murder as soon as police arrived on the scene.
Tobias Ellwood urged MPs to end surgeries but Speaker Lindsay Hoyle held his last night amid widespread debate over MPs’ security and how to better protect parliamentarians.
Robert Largan, the Conservative MP for High Peak in Derbyshire, said he would still hold his surgery from 10.30am this morning while a number of other councillors took to social media to express their defiance.
Meanwhile, Labour MP Harriet Harman, who was sworn in to the House of Commons on the same day as Sir David in the 1980s, said she would be writing to the Prime Minister to ask for a Speaker’s Conference to find a solution.
Asked whether there could be a balance between the safety of MPs and the democratic process, Ms Patel today said: ‘It can be balanced, it can absolutely be balanced.’
Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Leader of the Labour Party Sir Keir Starmer, left, followed by Speaker of the House of Commons Lindsay Lindsey Hoyle, carry flowers as they arrive at the scene where Sir David Amess was killed
Home Secretary Priti Patel today issued a defiant message, saying the UK and its democracy ‘cannot be cowed’ – as Members of Parliament vowed to carry on holding face-to-face public meetings
Tobias Ellwood (pictured) urged MPs to end surgeries but Speaker Lindsay Hoyle held his last night amid widespread debate over MPs’ security and how to better protect parliamentarians
Asked whether there could be a balance between the safety of MPs and the democratic process, Home Secretary Priti Patel (pictured) today said: ‘It can be balanced, it can absolutely be balanced’
On whether surgeries should be allowed to continue, she added: ‘We will carry on, we live in an open society, a democracy. We cannot be cowed by any individual or any motivation… to stop us from functioning, to serve our elected a democracy.’
Police are expected to contact 650 MPs today as Ms Patel ordered an immediate review of security arrangements.
Tory MP Mr Ellwood suggested it was time for public and well-advertised constituency surgeries to come to an end.
He told BBC’s Radio 4: ‘I would recommend that no MP has direct surgery – you can move to Zoom, there are other ways, you can achieve an awful lot over the telephone, you can get things moving far faster than having to wait for a surgery date.’
According to the Times, Whitehall officials have had concerns about a possible lone-wolf attack by people who have become radicalised during lockdown.
Horrified constituents waiting to see Sir David (pictured), who has campaigned to help refugees, watched in horror as he was attacked
Police are expected to contact 650 MPs today as Ms Patel (pictured) ordered an immediate review of security arrangements
But others are not convinced ending surgeries is the solution to protecting MPs.
Labour MP and speaker of the House of Commons Sir Lindsay told BBC Two’s Newsnight the terrorists ‘will not win’.
The MP for Chorley, stressed the importance of face-to-face surgeries and warned against a knee-jerk reaction following Sir David’s death.
He said: ‘Those people who do not share our values or share democracy, they will not win and we won’t let them win.
‘We will continue to look at security, that is ongoing and it will continue.’
A Briton of Somali descent, 25, was yesterday arrested following the brutal stabbing of the veteran MP.
Horrified constituents waiting to see Sir David, who has campaigned to help refugees, watched in horror as he was attacked.
Sir Lindsay Hoyle spoke to Boris Johnson and Ms Patel following the fatal stabbing of the 69-year-old MP in his Southend West constituency.
Sir David is the second MP to be killed in five years, after the murder of Jo Cox by a far-right extremist in 2016.
A Briton of Somali descent, 25, was yesterday arrested following the brutal stabbing of the veteran MP. Pictured, the scene
Speaking to BBC2’s Newsnight, Sir Lindsay said: ‘It is about doing the right things working with the police constabularies right across the United Kingdom because it is about joining that up.
‘I know that they are contacting all the MPs to check about their safety, to reassure them, because in the end we have got to make sure that is a priority.’
He added: ‘Those people who do not share our values or share democracy, they will not win and we won’t let them win. We will continue to look at security, that is ongoing and it will continue.’
Even before the murder of Jo Cox in 2016 concern was growing over the threat to MPs away from Parliament.
The improvements were championed by Sir Lindsay during his time as Deputy Speaker, and he has continued the drive since taking over from John Bercow.
Every politician is currently thought to have had a security assessment in the constituency, and they get a ‘standard’ package such as alarm systems, shutters, CCTV and personal alarms for staff.
If the police deem it necessary MPs can also access ‘enhanced’ measures. The authorities do not specify what that can include, but it is thought to include secure transport and guards.
Robert Largan (pictured), the Conservative MP for High Peak in Derbyshire, said he would still hold his surgery from 10.30am this morning while a number of other councillors took to social media to express their defiance
The costs are met through a central contract with Chubb, organised by the Commons.
However, there are concerns that most of the measures are applied to offices and homes, while surgeries often happen at churches or other buildings that might not be secure.
Sir Lindsay said MPs were in shock at what he described as an attack on democracy, adding that he wanted to see a greater police presence at constituency surgeries.
But he said it was vital that voters were able to engage directly with MPs.
Sir Lindsay said: ‘David was a lovely man, devoted to his family, to parliament and his Southend West constituency.
‘He was well liked by members and the staff alike, and during his almost four decades here, built a reputation for kindness and generosity.
‘We will need to discuss and examine MPs’ security and any measures to be taken.’
Meanwhile, Ms Harman said a Speaker’s Conference, which would see all parties come together with authorities to find recommendations for increasing safety measures, was discussed following the murder of Ms Cox in 2016.
She said ultimately the Government would not vote in favour of it at that time, but hopes it will be considered now.
Speaking to the BBC Radio 4 Today programme she said: ‘I don’t think any members of parliament would be arguing for the sort of close security that has to be there for home secretaries, prime ministers and foreign secretaries, to apply to MPs going about their ordinary constituency business.
‘I am sure we can find a better way of making sure MPs are able to go about their business but be safe.’
A National Police Chiefs’ Council spokesman said every UK MP will be contacted by Operation Bridger, a nationwide police protective security operation established in 2016, to discuss their security arrangements following the death of Sir David Amess.
The spokesman said: ‘In light of yesterday’s tragic attack, every MP will be contacted individually by Op Bridger representatives in their local force to discuss their security arrangements, and to ensure they are aware of all advice pertaining to their personal safety and security.
‘They will also speak to MPs about security arrangements for any events they are planning to attend in the coming days, so the appropriate advice can be provided.
‘We encourage MPs to immediately report any security concerns to their local police force in order to keep themselves, their staff and members of the public attending surgeries safe. Funding is available through the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority for security needs based on threat assessments made by police.’