The high-octave EU referendum campaign in the United Kingdom ground to a halt with news of the shocking murder of the charismatic Labour Member of Parliament for Bately and Spen, Jo Cox (41), at the village of Birstall on the outskirts of Leeds in West Yorkshire on Thursday afternoon.
Ms. Cox, a first-time MP, was a vocal supporter of Britain remaining in the European Union (EU). She was reportedly shot three times and then knifed several times by a middle aged man as the MP.
The Yorkshire Police announced that the suspected killer, a 52-year old named locally as Tommy Mair, was arrested shortly afterwards. They recovered weapons, including a firearm. He also attacked a 77-year-old bystander who sustained non life threatening injuries.
An eyewitness account of the attack by a nearby restaurant worker was being carried in British media outlets. Hichem ben Abdalla (56) said he came out of the café hearing screaming shortly after 1 pm when he heard screaming. He said: “There was a guy who was being very brave and another guy with a white baseball cap who he was trying to control, and the man in the baseball cap suddenly pulled a gun from his bag.” He said: “He was fighting with her and wrestling with her and then the gun went off twice and then she fell between two cars and I came and saw her bleeding on the floor.”
After first shooting and then stabbing her, “he was kicking her as she was lying on the floor”, Abdallah said.
The police are investigating claims that the man shouted “Britain First” the name of a far-right political group as he attacked Ms. Cox. The organisation has since denied that they had any involvement in the murder.
A stunned country responded with an explosion of tributes for the popular MP and sadness at the senseless violence that took her life.
Prime Minister David Cameron and Leader of the Opposition Jeremy Corbyn led the tributes to Ms. Cox. Cameron, who cancelled a planned EU campaign meeting in Gibraltar after hearing the news, called the murdered MP a “star”. “The death of Jo Cox is a tragedy. She was a committed and caring MP. My thoughts are with her husband Brendan and her two young children,” he said.
Corbyn said: “The whole of the Labour party and Labour family — and indeed the whole country — will be in shock at the horrific murder of Jo Cox today.” He spoke of the “lifelong record of public service and a deep commitment to humanity” of Ms. Cox, who worked as a charity worker for Oxfam and the anti-slavery charity, the Freedom Fund, before she joined politics.