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House of Commons meets in 'heartbreaking sadness' to pay tribute to Jo Cox

Published 20/06/2016

A white and red rose lie on Jo Cox's empty seat in the House of Commons
A white and red rose lie on Jo Cox's empty seat in the House of Commons
Commons Speaker John Bercow speaks in the House of Commons, London

The House of Commons has met in "heartbreaking sadness" and "heartfelt solidarity" to pay tribute to Jo Cox, Speaker John Bercow said as several MPs broke down in tears.

Mr Bercow said the killing of the Labour MP - "in this manner, of this person, our democratically elected colleague" - was " particularly shocking and repugnant" .

A single white rose was placed in Mrs Cox's usual place on the Labour benches while MPs of all sides wore the flower as a mark of respect.

Several of her Labour colleagues, including Heidi Alexander, Stephen Kinnock and Carolyn Harris, were in tears before Mr Bercow began the tributes.

Opening the recalled Commons session, Mr Bercow said: "Colleagues, we meet today in heartbreaking sadness but also in heartfelt solidarity.

"Any death in such awful circumstances is an outrage and a tragedy.

"Yet this death, in this manner, of this person, our democratically elected colleague Jo Cox, is particularly shocking and repugnant.

"All of us who came to know Jo during her all too short service in this House became swiftly aware of her outstanding qualities.

"She was caring, eloquent, principled and wise.

"Above all she was filled with and fuelled by love for humanity - devoted to her family and a relentless campaigner for equality, human rights and social justice.

"Jo was proud to be the member of Parliament for Batley and Spen, where she had her roots, and she was determined to live life to the full.

"She succeeded superbly.

"Jo was murdered in the course of her duty serving constituents in need.

"She fought for them, just as she fought for others at home and abroad who were victims of poverty, discrimination or injustice.

"An attack like this strikes not only at an individual but at our freedom.

"That is why we assemble here - both to honour Jo and to redouble our dedication to democracy."

In total silence, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was called to speak.

He said: "Last Thursday, Jo Cox was doing what all of us do - representing and serving the people who elected her.

"We have lost one of our own and our society has lost one of our very best.

"She spent her life serving and campaigning for other people - whether as a worker for Oxfam or for the anti-slavery charity the Freedom Fund, as a political activist and as a feminist.

"The horrific act that took her from us was an attack on democracy, and our whole country has been shocked and saddened by it.

"But in the days since, the country has also learnt something of the extraordinary humanity and compassion which drove her political activism and beliefs."

Mr Corbyn told the House Mrs Cox "believed in loving her neighbour's neighbour" and thought that "every life counted equally".

He said: "Her community and the whole country has been united in grief and united in rejecting the well of hatred that killed her in what increasingly appears to have been an act of extreme political violence.

"We are filled with sorrow for her husband Brendan and young children.

"They will never see her again but they can be so proud of everything she was, all she achieved and all she stood for as we are, as are her parents, as is her sister and her whole wider family."

The Labour leader also paid tribute to the "heroes" who tried to save Mrs Cox before urging MPs to change the way politics is conducted in the UK.

He said: "We need a kinder and gentler politics. This is not a factional party political point.

"We all have a responsibility in this House and beyond not to whip up hatred or sow division."

He added: "Today we remember Jo's compassion and a passion to create a better world and in her honour we recommit ourselves to that task."

Mrs Cox's husband, two young children and family were sat in the public gallery watching as the Prime Minister joined those paying tribute to Mrs Cox.

As MPs, who all wore the white rose of Mrs Cox's native Yorkshire, wiped away tears, David Cameron spoke of the sadness the country felt at the killing of the "loving, determined, passionate and progressive politician".

He said: "We are here today to remember an extraordinary colleague and friend. Jo Cox was a voice of compassion whose irrepressible spirit and boundless energy lit up the lives of all who knew her, and saved the lives of many she never, ever met.

"Today we grieve her loss, and we hold in our hearts and prayers her husband Brendan, her parents and sister, and her two children who are just three and five years-old.

"We express our anger at the sickening and despicable attack that killed her as she did her job serving her constituents on the streets of Birstall.

"Let me join the leader of the Opposition in his moving words in praising Bernard Kenny and all those who tried to save her.

"But above all in this House we pay tribute to a loving, determined, passionate and progressive politician, who epitomised the best of humanity and who proved so often the power of politics to make our world a better place."

Mr Cameron recalled first meeting Mrs Cox in 2006 in Darfur where she was an aid worker and "doing what she was so brilliant at - bravely working in one of the most dangerous parts of the world fighting for the lives of refugees".

He raised some laughter from the otherwise sombre chamber when he noted that her decision to meet him - he was then leader of the Conservative opposition - had not been welcomed by all her colleagues and friends.

He added: "But it was typical of her determination to reach across party lines on issues that she felt were so much more important than party politics.

"Jo was a humanitarian to her core - a passionate and brilliant campaigner whose grit and determination to fight for justice saw her time and time again driving issues up the agenda and making people listen and above all act."

Mr Cameron noted: "Quite simply, there are people on our planet today who are only here and alive because of Jo.

"Jo was a committed democrat and a passionate feminist. She spent years encouraging and supporting women around the world to stand for office long before she did so herself.

"When she herself was elected as an MP just over a year ago she said to one of her colleagues that she did not just want to be known for flying around the world tackling international issues but that she had a profound duty to stand up for the people of Batley and Spen.

"And she was absolutely as good as her word.

"As she said in her maiden speech, Jo was proud to be made in Yorkshire and to serve the area in which she had grown up.

"She belonged there and in a constituency of truly multi-ethnic, multi-faith communities, she made people feel they belonged too.

"Jo's politics were inspired by love and the outpouring and unity of tributes we've seen in the past few days show the extraordinary reach and impact of her message."

Mr Cameron quoted Mrs Cox in saying "we are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us".

He said Wednesday, which would have marked Mrs Cox's 42nd birthday, would see a global celebration of her life and values.

Mr Cameron went on: "Jo brought people together. She saw the best in people and brought out the best in them.

"A brave adventurer and a keen climber, she was never daunted.

"When most people hear of a place called the inaccessible pinnacle they leave it well alone - not Jo. She didn't just climb it, she abseiled down it and did so despite a bad case of morning sickness.

"And it was her irrepressible spirit which helped to give her such determination and focus in her politics too."

Tory MPs could also be seen in tears as the tributes were made to Mrs Cox.

Mr Cameron added: "May we and the generations of members that follow us in this House honour Jo's memory by proving that the democracy and freedoms Jo stood for are indeed unbreakable, by continuing to stand up for our constituents and by uniting against the hatred that killed her today and for evermore."

MPs, the press and the public united in a standing ovation as the highly-emotional tributes ended and parliamentarians filed out of the chamber in pairs to attend a prayer and remembrance service in St Margaret's Church - often referred to as the "parish church of the Commons".

Mr Corbyn and others waved to Mrs Cox's husband Brendan and their son in the public gallery.

Earlier Holly Lynch, Labour MP for Halifax, said Mrs Cox "was the very best of us" as she got up to speak of her fond memories of the late-MP, her hands trembling as she clutched her printed speech.

She said: "This will be the hardest speech I will ever give, however it wasn't difficult to write as there is just so much I wanted to say."

She added: "She may well have been small, but in politics, as in life, she packed a punch which was simply beyond measure.

"She came into this place with such passion and energy, from the very start she had a clarity about what she was here to achieve, about what needed to change, and she wasn't going to waste any time in getting on with it."

Ms Lynch said that when Mrs Cox spoke "people listened" because there was weight to what she said.

And as the MP's family watched from the public gallery above, she told how Mrs Cox spoke "candidly about the challenges of balancing a young family with the pressures of being a diligent and effective member of Parliament".

Ms Lynch raised a laugh from the chamber as she recalled that Mrs Cox was not "the easiest person to whip...certain late night votes were not as important as being there to put her children to bed".

The MP added: "She was a daughter of Yorkshire and she fought tirelessly for those who had put their faith in her."

She said Mrs Cox was often seen around Parliament in her cycling kit and trainers, and had recently been confiding in her about the "trials and tribulations" of her children having chicken pox.

She added: "The honourable member for Redcar told me that she will remember Jo as a comet - burning brightly, lighting up the dark, awe inspiring and giving off sparks of heat, light and positive energy wherever it goes. I cannot think of a better way of describing her.

"She was the heart and soul of these benches and we are heartbroken. We loved her every day and we will miss her every day. She inspired us all, and I swear that we will do everything in our power to make her and her family incredibly proud."

Former Labour deputy leader Harriet Harman said she got to know Mrs Cox after the 2010 general election when Mrs Cox was elected as chairwoman of the Labour Women's Network.

She said Mrs Cox would be a "great loss" to British politics.

"Her feminism, her solidarity with other women, was a thread that ran through her and all her work in her community and for humanitarian causes," she said.

"She always said to me emphatically that her children were her priority above everything.

"But there was no dividing line between Jo's maternal heart and her great political heart.

"Her children will grow up to know what an amazing woman their mother was.

"She is such a great loss to our politics, an irreplaceable loss to her family to whom we send our heartfelt sympathy."

Stuart Andrew, the Tory MP for Pudsey, recounted the first time he met Mrs Cox when they both appeared on the local region's Sunday Politics show.

He said that when he arrived at the make-up room, Mrs Cox was already there.

"Needless to say I had to spend a lot longer in that chair than she did," he joked, prompting smiles across the House.

Mr Andrew said that "when Jo spoke, people listened" and that the "proud Yorkshire woman" was "never afraid to stand up for those she felt had no voice".

He also touched on the tributes paid to the "brilliant Yorkshire rose".

"Many described her as a rising star," he said. "Personally I think she was a star, full stop."

Alison McGovern (Wirral South), who was visibly emotional as she paid tribute, said: "Jo didn't just believe that women's voices should be heard, she made it so.

"She was a feminist whose activism saved women's lives and whose political skill got women elected to this House."

Ms McGovern added: "As Jo's friend and mine, Kirsty McNeill, has written 'half holding you upright, half shoving you forward' - that was what it meant to have Jo's arm around your shoulder and how we all long for those arms around our shoulder today.

"For one more hug, and definitely for one more smile - but it cannot be."

Labour's Mary Creagh (Wakefield) said: "In 13 short months ago Jo achieved more than some MPs in 13 years.

"She had an open mind and an open heart, and the world really needed somebody like Jo - somebody who never gave up, somebody who knew by the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we can alone."

Barry Sheerman, Labour MP for Huddersfield, said the Commons has a duty to support Mrs Cox's family in the days, months and years to come.

He recalled how he first met Mrs Cox when his daughter Madeleine worked for Glenys Kinnock.

Mr Sheerman, referring to remarks from his daughter, told MPs: "She said 'I'm not worried about leaving Glenys because I've found this brilliant replacement called Jo Cox', so we go back a long way."

The Labour MP also drew laughs from MPs as he joked: " There was a little bit of friendly rivalry as my daughter went on to work for David Miliband and Jo for Gordon and Sarah Brown."

Mr Sheerman added: "Someone said to me the other day 'Don't be mistaken about Jo, she's as tough as old boots when she's campaigning for anything'.

"I upset her on one or two times about things but she always got her own way.

"If you've got a daughter like Jo, you must have a darn good family behind you.

"I'm a grandparent, my 10th granddaughter born only a few days ago, and to have a girl like Jo you need a wonderful supportive family and, I tell you, we have a duty in this House to watch over that family in the days and months and years to come because we have a duty to support that family and those children."

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