British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will lead a special session of tributes in Parliament on Monday to the Conservative lawmaker stabbed to death as he met constituents, an attack that has fueled concern about politicians’ safety and the level of vitriol directed at them.
A 25-year-old British man with Somali heritage, Ali Harbi Ali, is being held under the Terrorism Act on suspicion of murder in David Amess’ killing. Police say the suspect appears to have acted alone and may have had a “motivation linked to Islamist extremism.”
The death the popular legislator who had served in Parliament for almost 40 years shocked Britain, especially its political class. It came five years after Labour Party lawmaker Jo Cox was shot and stabbed to death by a far-right extremist. The House of Commons returns Monday from a three-week break, and most of the scheduled business has been replaced by tributes to Amess. That will be followed by a service at the medieval St. Margaret’s Church in the shadow of Parliament.
The government has ordered a review of lawmakers’ security following the attack on Friday. British politicians are protected by armed police when they are in Parliament but generally are not given such protection when they meet with constituents in the districts they represent.
Many politicians say the amount of abuse they receive, both online and in person, has soared in recent years. Police in Wales said Monday they had arrested a 76-year-old man on suspicion of sending a death threat to Labour lawmaker Chris Bryant, the latest in a string of threats to politicians.
Bryant said the tenor of politics was “sourer now than I’ve known it in 20 years.”
Nick Thomas-Symonds, crime and policing spokesman for the main opposition Labour Party, said he and many other politicians received “intimidation while out on the streets, death threats, terrible letters, awful emails.”
“I don’t know a member of Parliament who has not suffered in that way,” he told the BBC. “It’s clear that something now has to change.”
The killing has also renewed debate about the threat from individuals radicalized by Islamic extremist or far-right ideology.
Multiple media outlets have reported that the suspect had been referred several years go to a government-sponsored program designed to steer people away from extremism, but was not considered a current subject of interest by the security services.
Police have until Friday to question the suspect, and are working to determine what, if any, connection he had to Amess and why he targeted the lawmaker. The politician’s meetings with voters in the seaside town of Leigh-on-Sea were public and open to all.
Amess’ family said in a statement that they were struggling to comprehend what had happened.
“We ask people to set aside their differences and show kindness and love to all,” said the politician’s wife and five children. “This is the only way forward. Set aside hatred and work towards togetherness.”