LONDON (Reuters) -British Prime Minister Boris Johnson led tributes on Monday to “dedicated, passionate” David Amess, a veteran lawmaker stabbed to death while meeting members of the public in an attack that has heightened concern about politicians’ safety.
Amess, 69, was knifed at a church on Friday in Leigh-on-Sea, east of London. At the scene, police arrested the 25-year-old son of an ex-media adviser to a former Somali prime minister. He remains in custody.
They are treating the attack, which Johnson described as a “contemptible act of violence”, as potential terrorism.
Amess was the second British lawmaker to be killed in five years and lawmakers from across the political spectrum, some fighting back tears, paid tribute to a man they described as a kind, funny, dedicated public servant.
“We will not allow the manner of Sir David’s death to in any way detract from his accomplishments as a politician or as a human being,” Johnson, wearing a black tie, told a packed House of Commons, which earlier observed a minute’s silence.
“David was a patriot who believed passionately in this country, in its people, in its future. He was also one of the nicest, kindest, and most gentle individuals ever to grace these benches.”
To cheers, Johnson announced the town of Southend-on-Sea in Amess’s electoral district would be made a city in his honour, a cause he had championed.
After two hours of tributes in parliament, lawmakers will attend a remembrance service at St. Margaret’s Church for the father of five, who had been a member of parliament for nearly 40 years.
“There are tears on all sides of the house this afternoon,” said opposition Labour lawmaker Harriet Harman, the longest-serving female member of parliament.
Amess’s family, who visited the scene of his murder, said he was a patriot and a man of peace.
“So, we ask people to set aside their differences and show kindness and love to all. This is the only way forward. Set aside hatred and work towards togetherness,” they said.
Many colleagues remembered times Amess had made them laugh, including how the devoted Catholic once had a boiled sweet blessed by the Pope after retrieving it from his pocket as just the wrong moment.
“The pope took the sweet thinking it was a revered object to be blessed, blessed the revered object and David had to put it in his pocket, a holy sweet,” said lawmaker James Duddridge.
NEVER BE COWED
The murder of Amess has prompted questions about politicians’ safety and what should be done to address the growing problem of online abuse.
“Today is a chance to remember David but in the days and weeks to come we must finally confront the threats and violence people face while enacting this country’s democracy,” said Labour leader Keir Starmer.
“A cowardly attack on a public servant doing their job, is an attack on our country and our way of life … our response must always be to show we will never be cowed.”
Johnson’s spokesman said members of parliament had been contacted by police to review security.
Detectives are quizzing suspect Ali Harbi Ali, a British national, under counter-terrorism laws, looking at a possible link to Islamist extremism. Officers are also searching properties in and around London.
Ali had been referred to a anti-radicalisation programme known as Prevent, the BBC said. But he was not of formal interest to the domestic security agency MI5.
Amess was also chairman of the cross-party committee which promoted good ties between Britain and Qatar, and the Times newspaper said detectives were looking at this link. Amess had visited Qatar last week.
Police have warned about the danger the COVID-19 pandemic posed in terms of radicalisation as vulnerable people spent more time online, potentially exposed to extremist material.
Labour lawmaker Chris Bryant said he had received a death threat after urging people to share “a kind message on Twitter today to a politician we disagree with” following Amess’s murder.
Police arrested a 76-year-old man on suspicion of malicious communications.
“Let’s have nicer language. Let’s have our differences, and that’s important … but what I don’t want is the hate and the nastiness,” Lindsay Hoyle, Speaker of the House of Commons, told Sky. “Today is a starting point where we can change the face of politics.”
(Additional reporting by Elizabeth Piper; editing by Guy Faulconbridge, Ed Osmond, Angus MacSwan and Giles Elgood)