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Southend to be given city status in tribute to murdered MP David Amess

The killing of the veteran parliamentarian at Belfairs Methodist Church in Leigh-on-Sea has led to fresh scrutiny over the security of MPs.

Image: PA

Updated Oct 18th 2021, 8:06 PM

SOUTHEND WILL BE granted city status as a tribute to David Amess, the Tory MP who led a decades-long campaign for the move for the seaside town until his murder.

Boris Johnson announced the move on as he led cross-party tributes in the Commons to one of the “nicest, kindest and most gentle” MPs.

Johnson praised the Southend West MP as a politician who “simply wanted to serve the people of Essex” as a backbench Conservative.

He vowed that the “contemptible act of violence” that took David’s life on Friday at a surgery for constituents would not “detract from his accomplishments as a politician or as a human being”.

Johnson said Amess was a “seasoned campaigner of verve and grit” who “never once witnessed any achievement by any resident of Southend that could not somehow be cited in his bid to secure city status for that distinguished town”.

“As it is only a short time since Sir David last put that very case to me in this chamber, I am happy to announce that Her Majesty has agreed that Southend will be accorded the city status it so clearly deserves,” he added to cheers from MPs.

Southend was one of several towns competing for city status as part of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations in 2022, with Sir David having pushed for the recognition for at least two decades.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the city status for the seaside town is a “fitting tribute to Sir David’s hard work”, as MPs across the political spectrum paid tribute in a packed Commons chamber.

Earlier today Amess’ widow wiped tears from her eyes as she read tributes to the Tory MP outside the church where he was murdered in an attack that has renewed scrutiny of politicians’ safety.

Julia Amess and other family members held each other as they made an emotional visit this morning to Belfairs Methodist Church in Essex, where Amess was stabbed while meeting constituents.

Earlier, MPs shared fresh experiences of receiving death threats as they prepare to pay tribute to Amess in the wake of the Conservative backbencher’s murder.

Labour’s Chris Bryant said a man has been arrested over a threat on his life after the MP for Southend West was killed while meeting constituents in Essex.

Justice Secretary Dominic Raab spoke of having received at least three threats on “life and limb” in the past two years, with the latest being of an acid attack.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson will lead tributes in the Commons to Amess later today before MPs and peers attend a service in his honour nearby at St Margaret’s Church.

The killing of the veteran parliamentarian at Belfairs Methodist Church in Leigh-on-Sea on Friday has led to fresh scrutiny over the security of MPs.

Just a day later, Bryant said he received a death threat after returning from Qatar where he has been investigating the situation faced by refugees from Afghanistan.

“I got back on Saturday and the first message in my inbox was this death threat, pretty clear, so I notified the police and they have taken action,” he told the PA news agency.

He said abuse in British politics has risen in recent years, particularly over Brexit and from anti-vaccine protesters who he said had targeted his Rhondda constituency office in the last year.

2.63138314 Julia Amess Source: PA

2.63117999 Source: PA

A South Wales Police spokeswoman said a 76-year-old man from Bridgend was arrested on suspicion of malicious communications after the threat levelled at the Labour MP.

Raab said colleagues – particularly women – have received “worse abuse” than himself but that he has been the victim of three recent threats that required “intervention”.

“I have had three threats to life and limb over the last two years,” the Deputy Prime Minister told BBC Breakfast.

He told ITV that the most recent was “someone threatening to throw acid over me”.

While recognising the need for security, many MPs have been careful to warn against allowing the attack on Amess to create detachment from their constituents.

Raab said having plain-clothes police officers on the doors of surgeries with constituents could have a “chilling effect”, but he would understand if colleagues decided otherwise.

“We don’t let the terrorists win by creating wedges or walls between us and those who vote us in,” he told Sky News.

Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle called for fresh understanding of how politics can be made safer, but discussed the extensive protections of his US counterpart as he warned against a “knee-jerk reaction”.

“Do I want to be like Speaker (Nancy) Pelosi, who can’t go anywhere without armed police? Is that a life I want? No,” he told ITV’s Good Morning Britain.

Amess’ killing was the second murder of an MP within five years, after Labour’s Jo Cox was targeted by a right-wing extremist outside a West Yorkshire library where she was due to hold a constituency surgery.

Her widower, Brendan Cox, warned supporters from across the political spectrum against a “celebration of political segregation”.

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“I think that is absolutely something that we have to challenge. And linked to that we have to stop dehumanising our opponents”, he told Times Radio.

Politicians will share their memories of Amess in Parliament after a morning of prayers and a minute’s silence at 2.30pm today. 

His family said their “hearts are shattered” by the killing of their “strong and courageous” father.

“So, we ask people to set aside their differences and show kindness and love to all. This is the only way forward. Set aside hatred and work towards togetherness,” they said in a statement.

A 25-year-old man, understood by PA to be Ali Harbi Ali, was arrested at the scene on suspicion of Sir David’s murder and remains in police custody.

He has been detained under Section 41 of the Terrorism Act 2000 and detectives are expected to continue to question him until Friday after a warrant of further detention was granted.

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