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British MP’s Murder Casts Shadow on Brexit Vote

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron, second from right, stands with Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, left, John Bercow, Speaker of the House of Commons, center, and Labour MP Hilary Benn, second left, as they pay tribute near the scene where Labour Member of Parliament Jo Cox was killed in Birstall, near Leeds, June 17, 2016.

British politicians reached across party lines Friday to pay tribute to Jo Cox, a junior member of Parliament murdered Thursday after meeting with constituents.

Cox was known for her strong pro-immigrant views, her drive to help refugees, and her campaigning to keep Britain inside the European Union.

Prime Minister David Cameron, a Conservative, joined Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn Friday to lay flowers in Cox’s home district in Yorkshire.

Cameron said Britain is “rightly shocked” at the killing and praised her values of service, community, and tolerance. He said Parliament has lost “one of its most passionate and brilliant campaigners.” Corbyn called Cox’s murder an “act of hatred,” and “an attack on democracy.”

Outside the Houses of Parliament in London, lawmakers of both parties joined mourners on Friday, leaving flowers and notes at a makeshift shrine on the grass on Parliament Square.

Some mourners said they had never heard of Cox, an up-and-coming Labour politician, before she was shot and stabbed to death and were drawn by tributes that described her as a compassionate, well-meaning, and caring individual.

People gather during a vigil for Labour Member of Parliament Jo Cox, in Batley near Leeds, in Britain, June 17, 2016.
People gather during a vigil for Labour Member of Parliament Jo Cox, in Batley near Leeds, in Britain, June 17, 2016.

That characterization struck a chord among British citizens who paid tribute on Friday and said they are weary after months of angry rhetoric and accusations of scaremongering surrounding the Brexit decision — a referendum next Thursday on Britain leaving the European Union.

British authorities have yet to say whether there was a political motive behind the killing of Cox, who had campaigned against Brexit. Regardless, because of the timing and the sensitivity and passion of the Brexit debate, her murder is inevitably linked to and may shape next week's vote.

The murder of the 41-year-old mother of two stunned Britain, but also quickly brought a show of solidarity — and possibly a re-think — of a campaign that has been especially bitter and divisive.

Mary White, a passerby who paused at the memorial in Westminster Friday, said she hoped the tragedy will bring politicians to step back and think about their actions ahead of the Brexit vote.

“There has been a lot of bad feeling because of the way both the Leave campaign, the Brexiters, and the Remain campaign have acted,” she told VOA.

She said the Brexit debate has brought previously hidden feelings of anger over immigration to the surface. “Because of the stir over immigration, this is why this has happened.”

But officials warned against any speculation on the motive behind the killing and did not confirm media reports quoting witnesses as saying the assailant yelled “Britain First!” during the attack Thursday.

British media quoted unofficial sources as saying the lone suspect, identified as Thomas Mair, 52, had links to far-right groups and had a history of psychiatric problems.

British police continued to question the lone suspect Friday. Details of the motive behind the attack were not expected to be revealed until the case goes to court.

Brexit campaigning remained suspended Friday. Officials said it could resume in the coming days.

Some political analysts predict the tone could be considerably more civil and restrained in the wake of a tragedy that has shaken but also united Britons across party lines.