Britain’s interior minister has ordered an immediate review of the security arrangements for the country’s lawmakers following the slaying Friday of Conservative Member of Parliament David Amess, who was stabbed multiple times in a suspected Islamist terror attack while meeting with constituents east of London.
The 69-year-old Amess is the second British MP to have been killed in the past five years, and his death has prompted nationwide horror and outrage, with politicians across political divides praising him as a hard-working “gentleman MP,” one who eschewed a ministerial career in favor of focusing on the needs of his constituents.
Home Secretary Priti Patel, who chaired a meeting overnight of the country’s security and law-enforcement agencies, on Saturday ordered all police forces to review security arrangements for MPs, according to a spokesperson.
Speaker of the House of Commons Lindsay Hoyle has also said he wants to “examine” parliamentary safety measures for lawmakers following Amess’ killing inside a church hall in the town of Leigh-on-Sea, an hour’s drive east from the British capital.
Patel said questions are “rightly being asked about the safety of our country’s elected representatives.” She said the MP’s death was “a senseless attack on democracy itself.”
Friday’s stabbing attack by a lone assailant bore striking similarities to the murder of Labour MP Jo Cox in June 2016. Cox was about to hold meetings with constituents when she was shot and stabbed by a subsequently convicted far-right militant.
Paramedics battled for nearly two hours to save Amess, one of the British parliament’s longest-serving lawmakers, a devout Catholic and father of five, as he lay on the floor of the hall of Belfairs Methodist Church in Leigh-on-Sea, in the county of Essex.
Ben-Julian Harrington, chief constable of Essex police, said Amess had “suffered multiple injuries.” Local media reported Amess had been stabbed more than a dozen times and that a Roman Catholic priest who offered to administer the last rites was turned away by police because it might interrupt the work of the paramedics.
Police arrested a suspect, whom they identified as a 25-year-old British citizen of Somali descent, on suspicion of murder. The suspect is being questioned by counter-terrorism officers, who are examining possible ties to Islamist extremists.
In a statement, Britain’s Metropolitan Police said, “Senior national co-ordinator for counter-terrorism policing, Deputy Assistant Commissioner Dean Haydon, formally declared the incident as terrorism. The early investigation has revealed a potential motivation linked to Islamist extremism.”
The suspect’s computers and cellphone have been seized, and police have been searching two homes in London linked to the alleged attacker, officials said.
A local Conservative party official, John Lamb, told reporters near where the attack occurred that constituents were “waiting to see him [Amess], and one of them literally got a knife out and just began stabbing him.” Lamb said Amess was accompanied by two female members of his staff.
“They are devastated. I’ve no idea of the motive. He had no known enemies. I’m told the man was waiting calmly to be seen. It’s horrendous. So awful,” Lamb told The Sun newspaper.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who was clearly stunned by the attack, described Amess as “one of the kindest, nicest, most gentle people in politics” with an “outstanding record of passing laws to help the most vulnerable.” He declined to speculate about the motives of the assailant when asked by British broadcasters, saying, “I think what we need to do now is let the police get on with the investigation.”
Politicians, including all of Britain’s living former prime ministers, and the lawmaker’s constituents were quick to praise Amess, with the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby describing the murder as “a deep blow” to Britain and to democracy.
Keir Starmer, the leader of the main opposition Labour Party said, “This is a dark and shocking day. The whole country will feel it acutely, perhaps the more so because we have, heartbreakingly, been here before.”
Johnson, Starmer and Hoyle were among lawmakers who traveled Saturday to the church in Leigh-on-Sea to pay tribute to Amess.
Local residents also laid floral tributes, with a note on one reading “David Amess. RIP. Such a Gentleman XXX.”
“He's very well thought of in our area — he fights for good causes and sticks up for people around here,” electrician Anthony Finch told reporters.
Amess was first elected in 1983 and built a reputation as an independent-minded and sometimes quirky Conservative. He was a leading Brexiter and opposed same-sex marriage and abortion in most circumstances, placing him on the hard right of Britain’s ruling Conservatives.
But he was also a fervent campaigner for animal rights, an advocacy that didn’t please the fox hunters among his Conservative colleagues. He also co-sponsored energy conservation legislation.
Among his many campaigns, Amess advocated for years for a memorial to be erected in London to honor Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who saved tens of thousands of Jews in Nazi-occupied Hungary. The statue was eventually unveiled outside a synagogue in central London in 1997.
Amess' slaying will revive a debate about the mounting dangers British lawmakers appear to be facing, not only when working in the British parliament, but also when going about their business in their constituencies and seeing voters. British politicians have long prided themselves on the accessibility offered to constituents.
After the killing of Labour MP Cox, there were security reviews and MPs were advised to take more precautions. The amount of money spent protecting lawmakers surged following her death.
Amess himself feared that in the aftermath of Cox’s killing the nature of the relationship between British lawmakers and constituents had altered. In an autobiography published last year, he wrote that MPs had been forced to add additional security precautions, like being “more careful when accepting appointments” and “to never see people alone.” He lamented tightened security had “rather spoilt the great British tradition of the people openly meeting their elected politicians.”
Former Conservative minister Tobias Ellwood on Saturday urged his fellow lawmakers to pause meeting voters in person and to use video conferencing instead.
Ellwood, who tried to save the life of a police officer in the 2017 Westminster terror attack, said, “Until the Home Secretary's review of MP security is complete, I would recommend a temporary pause in face-to-face meetings.”
But Speaker of the House of Commons Hoyle warned against any knee-jerk reactions. While promising a parliamentary security review, he told Sky News, “We've got to protect MPs and allow them to carry out their duties. The duties that the electorate put them there for — to speak, to meet and to make sure that their views are conveyed to parliament.”
“What we can't do is give in to these people, people who don't believe in our values, don't believe in what we do,” Hoyle added.