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Boris Johnson Confirms Southend Will Become A City In Tribute To Sir David Amess

7 min read

Boris Johnson has announced Southend will be a made a city in tribute to Sir David Amess, who had campaigned for decades for it to be given the status.

The MP, who was killed on Friday, was commended as a voice “on behalf of the vulnerable and the voiceless” as the Prime Minister led tributes in the Commons to him this afternoon.

The veteran Conservative member for Southend West died after being stabbed 17 times at a constituency surgery. A man has been arrested on suspicion of murder and is being held under the terrorism act.

Opening a new Commons session after Conference recess, MPs observed a minute's silence in memory of Amess, led by the Speaker's chaplain Tricia Hillas.

In a packed-out chamber, save for a space deliberately left on the Tory benches where Sir David used to sit, she said: "May the bright memory of his rich life ever outshine the tragic manner of his death."

Johnson said the past 72 hours "has done little to numb the shock and sadness we all felt when we heard of the tragic and senseless death” of Amess, who had served in Parliament since 1983.

“This house has lost a steadfast servant,” he told MPs.

“We've lost a dear friend and colleague, and Julia and her children have lost a loving husband, and a devoted father.

“Nothing, I or anyone else can say will lessen the pain, the grief, the anger, they must feel that this darkest of times, we hold them in our hearts today. We mourn with them, and we grieve alongside them.”

The PM said the MP was taken “in a contemptible act of violence, striking at the core of what it is to be a member of his House”, but said the manner of his death must not detract “from his accomplishments as a politician, or as a human being”.

Johnson added: “He was also one of the nicest, kindest and most gentle individuals ever to grace these benches.

“A man who used his decades of experience to offer friendship and support to new members of all parties, whose views often confounded expectation and defied easy stereotype, who believed not just in pointing out what was wrong with society, but in getting on and doing something about it.

“It was that determination to make this country a better place that inspired his outstanding record on behalf of the vulnerable, and the voiceless.”

Johnson praised Amess for his campaigns on animal welfare, fuel poverty, for children with learning disabilities and for women with endometriosis. 

Since Amess' death there have been renewed calls for a campaign that was particularly close to him: to have city status granted to Southend. 

“I am happy to announce that Her Majesty has agreed that Southend will be accorded the city status it so clearly deserves," Johnson confirmed this afternoon, to applause from the chamber. 

Sir Keir Starmer welcomed the move, and in his tribute said the Labour Party wanted to acknowledge the pain felt on the Conservative benches, as he recalled a conversation with parents of murdered MP Jo Cox's parents on Friday afternoon.

"Of course our differences matter, that's what democracy is all about, but today we are reminded that what we have in common matters far more,” he said.

“I just want to take a moment for all of us to think about David's staff.”

Starmer added: “This Parliament has lost one of its finest advocates, and the people of Southend have lost one of their own.

“Sir David was a dedicated constituency MP, so I'm so pleased with the announcement the Prime Minister has just made, it's a very fitting tribute to all David's hard work.

"Fitting, because David delivered for the causes he championed. He passed a Bill that forced action on fuel poverty, he paved the way for better standards of fire safety and delivered protections for animal welfare.

"And no tribute that has emerged in recent days resonates more vividly than one from his former parliamentary staffer, Edward Holmes.

"In his first job out of university, Holmes forgot to tell Sir David about an urgent call that the then-prime minister, David Cameron, had made.

"He said he felt 'terrified' until he finally plucked up the courage to tell David, his response was typical - 'don't worry about that, Edward'. 

"So relaxed was David, that Mr Holmes says he suspects he never called the prime minister back.

"That tells of a politician who had his priorities right, one who put his people before his party and his patch before his personal advancement."

A visibly emotional Mark Francois said Amess was his oldest and dearest friend in politics, and the Conservative revealed he is "hurting greatly".

Describing Amess as “potentially the best Father of the House we will never have”, he told the Chamber: "Everything I ever learned about how to be a constituency MP I learned from David Amess. He sponsored me for the candidates' list and mentored me when I arrived.

“Without him I never would have become a Member of Parliament, so some may argue he has a lot to answer for."

Before the tributes got underway, a number of MPs shared shared their experiences of threats, harassment and abuse.

Labour's Chris Bryant said a man has been arrested over a threat on his life in the wake of Amess' death. 

On Monday morning, the Justice Secretary Dominic Raab said that he has received at least three threats on "life and limb" in the past two years, including an acid attack.

Earlier today Amess' family comforted each other as they read messages on floral tributes left outside the church where he was stabbed to death.

The MP's widow, Julia, wiped tears from her eyes on the visit to Belfairs Methodist Church in Leigh-on-Sea. Along with her five children they read through the messages left at the site over the weekend accompanied by the church's minister Clifford Newman.

On Sunday the family released a statement saying they were "absolutely broken”, but "will survive and carry on for the sake of a wonderful and inspiring man”.

A 25-year-old man who has been named as Ali Harbi Ali, a British citizen with Somali heritage, was arrested at the scene of the incident on Friday and is being held by the Metropolitan Police on suspicion of murder.

Scotland Yard said the early investigation has revealed a "potential motivation linked to Islamist extremism”, and counter-terrorism officers have until Friday to question him before making a decision to charge after a warrant of further detention was granted.

Coming just five years after the murder of Labour MP Jo Cox, killed by a right-wing extremist outside a library where she was due to hold a constituency surgery, Amess' death has led to renewed scrutiny over the security of politicians.

A review is underway and the Prime Minister's official spokesperson said "everything possible" will be done to ensure MPs can work safely, but said it was a decision for individual MPs if surgeries should continue in person or move online.

"MPs may rightly be concerned about security, they've been contacted by police to discuss their activities and events so their arrangements can be reviewed,” the spokesperson said. 

"But while individual arrangements should rightly remain a matter for individual MPs and police, the Prime Minister shares the concerns with a number of MPs and ministers that this attack cannot get in the way of democracy.

"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."

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