17 June 2016

After Jo Cox’s murder, Britain takes a breath


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Tragedy has dominated global news this week. The US and the rest of the world are still reeling after a shooter opened fire in a gay nightclub in Orlando, killing 49 people and injuring many more. This horrifying crime has raised unanswerable questions about the complex issues of Islamic extremism, gun violence, and homophobia, and US lawmakers are conflicted over how to respond.

Then yesterday, British MP Jo Cox was shot and killed after holding a constituency surgery in Birstall, West Yorkshire.

In the past few weeks, the EU referendum debate has reached a fever pitch. Campaigners on both sides have become increasingly frenzied, stooping to personal insults, inducing panic, and staging bizarre publicity stunts. The day before Jo Cox’s death, representatives for Leave and Remain chased each other down the Thames in boats – a spectacle that confounded political observers abroad.

With yesterday’s attack, that antagonism has come to an abrupt halt. Both campaigns have been suspended, politicians of all affiliations have offered condolences and tributes, and the freneticism of the debate seems to have eased. Though some have tried to capitalise on unconfirmed reports that the perpetrator may have been motivated by right-wing hatred, for the most part the focus has shifted to celebrating Jo Cox’s achievements both in parliament and before her political career.

We are not a country that is used to such violence, and an incident like this feels like an assault on our democracy. But the response, in Westminster and across the country, has been quintessentially British, with arguments set aside to make way for decency and respect.

There are no words that can make sense of this terrible event. Jo Cox was a dedicated MP, murdered while doing her job, representing the people who had elected her. But today, it seems as though this attack has reminded us that the country will go on after the referendum next Thursday, whatever the outcome. In the wake of tragedy, Britain has been left with unity, and perspective.

Rachel Cunliffe is Deputy Editor of CapX.