Monday 9 December 2019

Brexit campaign on hold after murder of Jo Cox

A man leaves a floral tribute for murdered Labour Member of Parliament Jo Cox in Parliament Square, London, Britain June 17, 2016
A man leaves a floral tribute for murdered Labour Member of Parliament Jo Cox in Parliament Square, London, Britain June 17, 2016

David Hughes and Richard Wheeler

Campaigning ahead of the European Union referendum will remain on pause as politicians on both sides of the divide struggle to come to terms with the murder of Jo Cox.

Both of the main campaigns suspended their activities as news of the Labour MP's death broke on Thursday and a series of engagements planned for today have been cancelled.

MP Jo Cox, who has been shot in Birstall near Leeds, an eyewitness said
MP Jo Cox, who has been shot in Birstall near Leeds, an eyewitness said

With days to go until the June 23 referendum, Leave campaign standard bearer Boris Johnson has insisted the Brexit backers are the underdog in the contest despite opinion polls swinging in their favour.

Read More: Tragic Labour MP Jo Cox 'suffered months of harassment' before being shot and stabbed

The prominent Vote Leave campaigner said a natural bias among voters towards the current state of things during big referendums means those backing Britain's exit from the EU remain outsiders for victory.

But the Conservative MP claimed there is momentum in his campaign, with people willing to listen to the case.

Several polls in recent days have suggested Leave is ahead in the contest, but a high number of undecided voters makes it difficult for those seeking to accurately predict the outcome.

Read More: Man who attacked tragic MP Jo Cox 'not violent and not that political', claims brother

Mr Johnson, speaking before Vote Leave suspended its battle bus campaigning in East Anglia once it was known Mrs Cox had been attacked, was asked about the Brexit camp's chances of victory.

He told reporters: "I've always thought it was very, very tight. I think we've been the underdogs for a long time and that must remain the case.

"In any big referendum like this there must always be an intrinsic status quo bias, but I think that things have certainly been moving our way and people are certainly listening to the case that we're making."

The former London mayor became the latest high-profile Tory to criticise Chancellor George Osborne's threat of an emergency Budget in the event of Brexit and vowed to oppose any such measures.

He said: "It's like saying would I support the tooth fairy being given a DBE (damehood) - it's a fantastical proposition.

"If it were to appear I would certainly not support it, I would certainly oppose it, but I don't think it will.

"I think what we're seeing is the last fusillade of Project Fear."

Labour former minister Yvette Cooper said "vitriol" in the EU referendum debate could be "very destructive", adding that Mrs Cox would have always stood against it.

Ms Cooper told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: "We don't yet know the circumstances of this case but there has been an increase in vitriol, I think, in public debate. Some of that is directed towards MPs but some of it is people directing it at each other and that's never healthy.

"Passion is good and disagreements essential and there's probably inevitable anger but there is, I think, the feel that there is more nastiness in public debate now and none of us would want to see that."

She added: "If you think back it's only four years since the Olympics where we had this real climate of everybody feeling proud together, celebrating our diversity, feeling confident as a country, and it does feel that the public mood, the public atmosphere about debate has changed very substantially since then."

Asked if the EU referendum debate had become too nasty, Ms Cooper replied: "There is some vitriol as part of that debate which can be very destructive but I think the thing about Jo is she would have always stood against that.

"She would always have argued for bringing people together, for healthy debate but for uniting people, and it's what her husband said yesterday as well that we cannot let the hatred that killed Jo win.

"We have to all stand against that hatred and we should remember his words today."

PA Media

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