LONDON: Prime Minister David Cameron urged people to unite against hatred on Monday as Britain’s parliament held a tearful special session to honour murdered lawmaker Jo Cox.
Cox, a 41-year-old mother of two who campaigned for British membership of the European Union in a June 23 referendum, was shot and killed last Thursday in her constituency in northern England.
To cries of “hear, hear” in parliament, Cameron called on fellow politicians to remember Cox by “uniting against the hatred that killed her today, and for ever more”.
Minutes before the parliamentary session opened, her alleged killer, 52-year-old Thomas Mair, appeared in court in London via video link from prison after being charged at the weekend with murder.
During a short hearing at the Old Bailey court, he spoke only to confirm his name and was ordered to remain in custody.
Asked to give his identity at a lower court on Saturday, he had replied: “Death to traitors, freedom for Britain.”
Cox’s killing has sparked a fierce debate over the divisive nature of the European Union referendum battle, as polls show the rival camps neck-and-neck with three days to go.
A close friend of hers in parliament, Stephen Kinnock, hit out at a Brexit campaign poster, released just hours before she was killed, that showed refugees trudging through a field with the headline: “Breaking Point”.
“She would have responded with outrage and with robust rejection of the calculated narrative of cynicism, division and despair that it represents,” Kinnock said.
“Jo understood that rhetoric has consequences. When insecurity, fear and anger are used to light a fuse, then the explosion is inevitable,” he warned.
Despite withering criticism, leading Brexit campaigner Nigel Farage, head of the UK Independence Party (UKIP), has defended his use of the poster, saying it is an accurate depiction of the refugee crisis in the EU.
On Cox’s vacant seat in House of Commons lay a white rose representing her Yorkshire home and a red rose in memory of her political affiliation, the opposition Labour Party.
Cox’s husband Brendan and her children, aged five and three, listened in the parliament’s gallery as politicians, sporting white roses, paid tribute.
Some lawmakers clutched handkerchiefs and wiped away tears.
“The community and whole country has been united in grief and united in rejecting the well of hatred that killed her in what increasingly appears to have been an act of extreme political violence,” said Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.
“In her maiden speech last year, Jo said this: ‘Our communities have been deeply enhanced by immigration’,” he added. “We need a kinder and gentler politics. We all have a responsibility not to whip up hatred or sow division.”
An online appeal for three charities supported by Cox, including one to aid people in Syria, has so far collected £936,000 (1.2 million euros/$1.4 million). -AFP