Cameron’s Gibraltar rally cancelled after MP is murdered
David Cameron cancelled a planned EU rally in Gibraltar after the brutal murder yesterday of Labour MP Jo Cox.
Ms Cox, a 41-year old mother of two children and a supporter of the Remain campaign, was shot and stabbed by a man reportedly shouting "Britain first" at lunchtime on Thursday in Birstall, West Yorkshire.
Eyewitnesses said he kicked and stabbed her and then shot her several times, the final shot aimed at her head.
News of the attack broke while the Prime Minister’s plane – a private jet that flew over Spain - was en route to Gibraltar and preparations were under way in Casemates Square for a pro-EU rally which thousands were expected to attend.
Mr Cameron’s plane landed just after 4pm and the Prime Minister was greeted on the tarmac by Chief Minister Fabian Picardo. In the UK, the Labour MP was fighting for her life.
By the time Mr Cameron and Mr Picardo had driven to the Rock Hotel for meetings and a reception ahead of the rally, both the Stronger IN and Leave campaigns in the UK had decided to suspend all campaigning for the day as a mark of respect for the Labour MP.
Minutes later, Mr Cameron announced he would pull out of the Gibraltar rally too.
He tweeted: “It's right that all campaigning has been stopped after the terrible attack on Jo Cox. I won't go ahead with tonight's rally in Gibraltar.”
Mrs Cox was still in critical condition as Peter Canessa informed the crowds in Casemates that the event had been cancelled.
But as dignitaries waited in the bar of the Rock Hotel to find out what was happening, news filtered through that she had died.
"The death of Jo Cox is a tragedy,” Mr Cameron said, speaking briefly to BBC and GBC camera crews at the Rock Hotel.
“She was a committed and caring MP. My thoughts are with her husband Brendan and her two young children.”
The message was echoed by the Chief Minister, who acknowledged that the tragic developments in the UK meant there was no option but to cancel the event and suspend all campaigning.
“The Prime Minister’s presence in Gibraltar is hugely important news but there is nothing more important than the right to life,” he said, speaking to the Chronicle in the lobby of the Rock Hotel.
“Although everybody who was waiting for the Prime Minister in Casemates will be disappointed, this is the right thing to do.”
“This is a truly appalling attack on a serving MP working hard to serve her community. Jo Cox was a universally respected Member of Parliament who fulfilled her democratic duty to the very best of her abilities.”
“This horrific act is an attack on democracy and the British freedoms that Jo Cox worked so diligently and passionately to defend.”
“My thoughts are with her family and friends.”
Before leaving Gibraltar, Mr Cameron held a private meeting with Mr Picardo and discussed a number of key issues relating to Gibraltar.
The meeting took place in a boardroom at the Rock Hotel, where the Royal Gibraltar Police had established a heavy security presence including armed officers and plainclothes close protection teams. Mr Cameron also brought his own security team.
The Prime Minister also met with GSD leader Daniel Feetham and the leader of the Liberal Party, Dr Joseph Garcia.
After the meetings, Mr Cameron briefly attended a private reception in the Rock Hotel.
Guests included local dignitaries such as Adolfo Canepa, the Speaker of Parliament, and former Chief Minister Sir Peter Caruana.
Several MPs and senior officials were also present, as were members of the Gibraltar Stronger in Europe campaign including its head, Gemma Vasquez, who also met privately with Mr Cameron.
But against the backdrop of the murder of the Labour MP in Leeds, the event was low key and Mr Cameron’s presence a courtesy above all else.
By 6.30pm, the Prime Minister was being whisked to Gibraltar Airport, where the Chief Minister bade him farewell.
A few minutes later, his plane took off bound for the UK.
This was the first time a serving British Prime Minister had travelled to Gibraltar since 1968, when Labour’s Harold Wilson held talks with Rhodesia’s Prime Minister Ian Smith.
It was also the first time in Gibraltar’s modern history that a British Prime Minister would address Gibraltar-related issues in Gibraltar.
Mr Cameron was expected to champion the UK membership of the EU and acknowledge the concerns of the Gibraltarians at the prospect of a Brexit.
He was also expected to have reaffirmed the UK double-lock commitment that it would not make any deal on the sovereignty of Gibraltar or even enter into discussions on sovereignty against the wishes of the Gibraltarians.
Privately, he told guests at the Rock Hotel that he deeply understands the concerns in Gibraltar in the run-up to the June 23 referendum.
Once the EU campaign is back under way today, the Stronger IN Campaign is expected to issue a statement with the message that Mr Cameron had hoped to deliver in Gibraltar yesterday.
The Prime Minister's visit had been met with opposition from his Spanish counterpart.
Spain’s acting Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, said he was "unhappy" with Mr Cameron's visit to the Rock.
Sr Rajoy, who backs the UK's membership in the EU, claimed Gibraltar will remain Spanish regardless of what happens in next week's referendum.
Speaking on Spanish radio yesterday morning before the attack in Leeds and Mr Cameron’s arrival in Gibraltar, Sr Rajoy said: "The government doesn't like the fact that Mr Cameron is going to Gibraltar.”
“What is being debated is whether the United Kingdom remains or leaves the European Union, and that campaign should be carried out in the United Kingdom, not in Gibraltar.”
“That is how it should be.”
After news of the Labour MP’s death broke and the Gibraltar rally was cancelled, Sr Rajoy also took to social media to condemn the attack.
He tweeted that “violence has no place in a democracy”.