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Southend will become a city in tribute to murdered MP Sir David Amess

Photo by UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

By Sam Blewett, Sam Russell and David Hughes, PA

Southend will be granted city status as a tribute to Sir 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 Monday as he led passionate cross-party tributes in the Commons to one of the “nicest, kindest and most gentle” MPs.

Mr 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 Sir David’s life on Friday at a surgery for constituents would not “detract from his accomplishments as a politician or as a human being”.

Mr Johnson said Sir David 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.

It followed a minute’s silence and Sir David’s widow visiting Belfairs Methodist Church to read tributes left outside the scene where he was fatally stabbed.

Lady Julia Amess wiped tears from her eyes and was comforted by relatives as they made an emotional visit to the Leigh-on-Sea church.

MPs were sharing experiences of receiving death threats as they grappled with the second murder of a colleague in five years.

Labour’s Jo Cox was killed by a right-wing extremist outside a West Yorkshire library where she was due to hold a constituency surgery in 2016.

Home Secretary Priti Patel told the Commons that a review of policing for politicians is “concluding literally in the next few days”.

Labour’s Chris Bryant said a man has been arrested over a threat on his life in the wake of the murder of the MP for Southend West.

A day after the latest killing, Mr 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.

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.

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 an acid attack threat.

Mr 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 Sir David to create detachment from their constituents.

Mr 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.

Downing Street echoed the sentiment, insisting that the murder “cannot get in the way of democracy” after suggestions MPs could end face-to-face surgeries with constituents.

Though he noted the decision will be up to individual MPs, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “We will not be cowed by those who seek to divide us and spread hate and the PM has been struck by the bravery and commitment to serving constituents expressed by many MPs following Sir David’s death.”

Brendan Cox, the widower of murdered Labour MP Jo Cox, warned supporters from across the political spectrum against a “celebration of political segregation”.

“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.

Following tributes in the House, a service was held in Sir David’s honour nearby at St Margaret’s Church.

Mr Johnson and Sir Keir were among around 800 politicians in attendance to hear the Archbishop of Canterbury say the “light lit by public service” provided by MPs like Sir David “must never be put out”.

Justin Welby described Sir David as someone “with a robust fairness of spirit and charity of heart that won the admiration and affection of all sides, regardless of whether they agreed with him politically or not”.

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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