Jo Cox, a popular first-time Labour MP from West Yorkshire and a “Remain in EU” supporter, died on Thursday after being stabbed and shot by a man in her constituency, causing deep shock across Britain and the suspension of campaigning for next week’s referendum on the country’s European Union membership.
Cox, 42, was the MP from Batley and Spen, nearly 340km north of London. She was airlifted to Leeds General Infirmary after being attacked in the market town of Birstall around 1pm GMT.
Acting chief constable Dee Collins of West Yorkshire Police said authorities couldn’t discuss any motive for the shooting but they arrested a 52-year-old man and recovered weapons including a firearm. Police said they were not looking for anyone else in connection with the attack.
British media quoted at least three named witnesses as saying that the attacker shouted “Britain first” during the attack.
“I heard the shot and I ran outside and saw some ladies from the cafe running out with towels... He (the attacker) was shouting Britain first when he was doing it... He was pinned down by two police officers and she was taken away in an ambulance,” Graeme Howard, a resident of the nearby Bond Street, told The Guardian.
One witness said a man pulled an old or makeshift gun from a bag and fired twice. “I saw a lady on the floor like on the beach with her arms straight and her knees up and blood all over the face,” Hichem Ben-Abdallah told reporters. “She wasn’t making any noise, but clearly she was in agony.”
Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour Party, said: “Jo died doing her public duty at the heart of our democracy, listening to and representing the people she was elected to serve. It is a profoundly important cause for us all.”
British prime minister David Cameron tweeted: “The death of Jo Cox is a tragedy. She was a committed and caring MP (Member of Parliament). My thoughts are with her husband Brendan and her two young children.”
The “Vote Leave” and “Remain” groups campaigning for the June 23 referendum on Britain’s future in the EU suspended their campaign for the day. MPs and others said they were shocked and shaken by the incident.
Sanjeev Kumar, a shop-owner near a library where Cox was meeting constituents, told BBC he heard of the incident from customers and went out to see Cox lying in a pool of blood on the pavement.
Other witnesses said they saw Cox being hit by a white man of medium height who was wearing a baseball cap and grey clothes. Witnesses said the MP was targeted after she became involved in an altercation between two arguing men.
“A man in his late 40s to early 50s nearby also suffered slight injuries. Armed officers attended and a 52-year-old man was arrested in the area,” West Yorkshire Police said.
Cox, a former aid worker with Oxfam, was married and has two children. She was an active member of parliamentary groups working on Palestine, Pakistan, Jammu and Kashmir and Yorkshire’s regional economy.
Brendan Cox, the husband of the murdered Labour MP, said in a statement: “She would have wanted two things above all else to happen now: one, that our precious children are bathed in love and, two, that we all unite to fight against the hatred that killed her. Hate doesn’t have a creed, race or religion, it is poisonous.”
The attack renewed concern over security for members of parliament, who regularly meet constituents in their local offices.
Gun ownership is highly restricted in Britain, and attacks of any nature on public figures are rare in the country that has considerably less security for political representatives than India.
The last British lawmaker to have been killed in an attack was Ian Gow, who died after a bomb planted by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) exploded under his car at his home in southern England in 1990.
(With inputs from agencies)