LONDON – Britain’s normally raucous House of Commons was given over to tears, roses and warm tributes Monday as legislators urged an end to angry and divisive politics in honour of their slain colleague Jo Cox, who was killed last week.
The British pound and global stock markets surged as shock at the death of the pro-Europe Cox seemed to sap momentum from campaigners fighting for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union.
The market surge suggested growing investor confidence that the uncertainty associated with a “leave” vote in Thursday’s referendum would be avoided. Betting houses also shortened the odds that Britain would remain in the 28-nation bloc.
Referendum campaigning has resumed with a more sombre tone after being suspended for three days following the death Cox, who was shot and stabbed to death outside a library in her northern England constituency last Thursday.
Police have charged a suspect, Thomas Mair, who gave his name during a weekend court appearance as “death to traitors, freedom for Britain.” He appeared in court for a brief hearing by video link Monday from prison, and his lawyer did not seek bail.
Mair’s motivation is unknown, but the slaying raised concerns about the often vitriolic tone of the referendum campaign, which has exposed bitter divisions about immigration and national identity in Britain.
Lawmakers called back from recess for a special session in Cox’s memory urged what Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn called “a kinder, gentler politics” in the wake of her death.
“We all have a responsibility, in this House and beyond, not to whip up hatred and sow division,” Corbyn said.
Cox’s friends and colleagues spoke of her warmth, energy and principles, as her husband Brendan and children aged 5 and 3 watched from the public gallery.
A red and a white rose were placed in Cox’s spot on the green Commons benches, and each lawmaker wore a white rose, symbol of her home county of Yorkshire.
Several legislators choked back tears as they spoke, and many recalled Cox’s words in her first Commons speech: “We are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us.”
“An attack like this strikes not only at an individual but at our freedom,” said Speaker John Bercow. “That is why we assemble here, both to honour Jo and to redouble our dedication to democracy.”
While “remain” campaigners have focused on the economic uncertainty surrounding a British exit from the bloc — popularly known as “Brexit” — the “leave” side has stressed the emotive issue of immigration. Campaigners argue that Britain cannot control migration while it remains in the EU, which is built on the principle of free movement between member states.
The increasingly strident tone of that message cost the “leave” campaign the support of one of the country’s best-known Muslim politicians Monday.
Former Conservative Party chair Sayeeda Warsi expressed disgust at a U.K. Independence Party poster depicting a crowd of migrants — mostly young men who appeared to be from the Middle East or Afghanistan — walking through Europe. Alongside the image were the words, “Breaking Point.”
Warsi said moderate voices in the “leave” campaign had been drowned out by xenophobia and hatred.
“This kind of nudge-nudge, wink-wink xenophobic racist campaign may be politically savvy or politically useful in the short term, but it causes long-term damage to communities,” Warsi said.
Some “leave” campaigners expressed bemusement at her announcement, saying they hadn’t been aware she was a supporter of a U.K. exit in the first place.
U.K. Independence Party leader Nigel Farage, a leading figure in the “leave” camp, defended the poster, released just hours before Cox’s death, saying it was intended “to point out that the EU is a failed project in every sense.”
Farage also accused the “remain” side of trying to capitalize on Cox’s death. He said “the actions of one crazed individual” should not be used to tar everyone who wanted to leave the EU.
“I think there are ‘remain’ camp supporters out there who are using this to try to give the impression that this isolated horrific incident is somehow linked to arguments that have been made … in this campaign, and, frankly, that is wrong,” Farage told LBC radio.
But Cox’s friend and fellow Labour legislator Stephen Kinnock told lawmakers that Cox would have been “outraged” by the poster, because “Jo understood that rhetoric has consequences.”
“It is the politics of division and fear, the harking back to incendiary slogans and the rhetoric of ‘Britain first’ that twists patriotism from love of country into an ugly loathing of others,” Kinnock said.
Public opinion polls published since Cox’s death suggested a slight shift toward remaining in the EU, but the two sides remained essentially even and it was unclear what was behind any movement, said respected pollster Ben Page of Ipsos MORI.
“It could be anxiety about the economy,” he said. “It could be revulsion about her murder.”
Clearer were the betting markets, which have consistently favoured the “remain” side. Betting house Betfair said the probability of Britain remaining in the EU rose from 65 per cent on Friday to 75 per cent on Monday, amid heavy trading.
The pound rose 1.5 per cent to $1.4680, rebounding from last week, when it hit its lowest levels since April.
In stock markets, the FTSE 100 was up 3 per cent and other indexes around the world were just as buoyant, with Germany’s DAX 3.4 per cent higher. U.S. stocks also closed higher: the Dow Jones industrial average rose 0.7 per cent, Standard & Poor’s 500 index rose 0.6 per cent and the Nasdaq composite was up 0.8 per cent.
Kathleen Brooks, research director at online trading company Gain Capital, said “the pause in the campaign seems to have lent crucial support to team ‘remain.'”
“The markets have always been more comfortable with the U.K. remaining in the European Union,” she said.