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Tributes to Jo Cox: ‘The heart and soul of these benches’

Politician had championed the plight of Syrian refugees and strongly backed a ‘remain’ vote in EU poll


 
In this May 12, 2015 photo, Labour Member of Parliament Jo Cox poses for a photograph. Britain's Press Association says Labour lawmaker Jo Cox has been injured in a shooting near Leeds, England, it has been reported, Thursday June 16, 2016. (Yui Mok/PA via AP, File) UNITED KINGDOM OUT NO SALES NO ARCHIVE

Labour Member of Parliament Jo Cox. (Yui Mok/PA via AP, File)

LONDON — The raucous business of Britain’s House of Commons was replaced by sombre silence and heartfelt tributes Monday for slain lawmaker Jo Cox, while the man charged with her slaying made a brief appearance in court by video link from prison.

Lawmakers lined the benches and stood in the aisles of the House for a special session in Cox’s memory. Some wiped away tears, and each wore a white rose, symbol of Cox’s home county of Yorkshire.

Parliament was in recess for campaigning in the European Union referendum when Cox was shot and stabbed to death outside a library in her northern England constituency on Thursday. The suspect, Thomas Mair, gave his name during a court appearance as “death to traitors, freedom for Britain.”

The killing — the first of a sitting British legislator in more than a quarter of a century — prompted an outpouring of shock and grief, and brought a three-day halt to campaigning for this week’s referendum.

“An attack like this strikes not only at an individual, but at our freedom,” said Speaker John Bercow, who recalled the House from recess to allow lawmakers to honour their colleague.

“That is why we assemble here, both to honour Jo and to redouble our dedication to democracy.”

Cox was a former aid worker and Labour legislator who had championed the plight of Syrian refugees and strongly backed a “remain” vote in Thursday’s EU poll.

Her death brought promises to tone down the often vitriolic political rhetoric of the referendum campaign, which has exposed bitter divisions about immigration and national identity in Britain.

“We need a kinder and gentler politics,” said Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. “We all have a responsibility, in this House and beyond, not to whip up hatred and sow division.”

The House is generally recalled only at times of crisis or high significance. The last time it happened was in September 2014, so lawmakers could vote on whether to launch airstrikes against the Islamic State group in Iraq.

On Monday, Cox’s friends and colleagues remembered her warmth, energy and principles, as her husband and children aged 5 and 3 watched from the public gallery. Two roses, red and white, sat in her place on the green Commons benches.

“Jo Cox was a voice of compassion whose irrepressible spirit and boundless energy lit up the lives of all who knew her, and saved the lives of many she never, ever met,” said Prime Minister David Cameron.

Several legislators choked back tears as they spoke, and many recalled Cox’s words in her first Commons speech: “We are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us.”

Labour lawmaker Holly Lynch, like Cox elected just last year, said “she was the heart and soul of these benches, and we are heartbroken.”

The session ended with the rare sound of applause in the House of Commons as lawmakers looked to the gallery where Cox’s family sat. Parliamentarians then filed from the chamber and across the street to St. Margaret’s Church for a service of remembrance.

Mair, who was arrested shortly after the attack, appeared briefly at London’s Central Criminal Court by video link from high-security Belmarsh Prison. He is charged with murder, grievous bodily harm, possession of a firearm and possession of an offensive weapon.

His lawyer did not seek bail, and the suspect did not repeat the “death to traitors” outburst he made during a hearing on Saturday. Asked if he was Thomas Mair, he replied, “Yes, I am.”


 
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