John Bercow: Violent intimidation will not overcome the resolve of our Parliament and our nation
Last Thursday the House met in the wake of the terror attack of the day before, to hear a statement from the prime minister.
The atrocious events of Wednesday 22 March are now a matter of public record, and the police and security investigations are ongoing. I do not propose to retell the story.
Instead, I would like to reflect on how we demonstrated, by our words and by our actions, that no violent intimidation intended to cow our democracy and curtail our freedoms is more powerful than the resolve of our Parliament and our nation to stand in defiance of any attempt to do so.
The death of PC Keith Palmer is a tragedy. The warm words spoken about him, both inside and outside the chamber, are testament to the fact that he was – as we all are, but it is occasionally easy to forget – not a faceless employee of an institution. He was a father, a husband, a friend and a colleague. His loss is deeply felt across the estate – not simply out of profound gratitude for his heroism on our behalf, and for which he paid the ultimate price, but for who he was.
During and after the lockdown of Parliament I was proud of, but not surprised by, the kindness shown by Members, staff and visitors alike. It is at moments such as this that the perceived barriers we sometimes erect break down, and we are just men and women in a frightening situation, trying to help and comfort others around us.
That afternoon, a significant number of people were evacuated to Westminster Abbey; throughout the ordeal, schoolchildren kept spirits up by singing and the emergency services – police, paramedics, and fire and rescue personnel alike – ensured that all evacuees felt as safe as possible given the circumstances.
The acts of kindness and compassion that were undertaken as the hours passed by, and the prevailing sense of togetherness, were so important that day. Whether a young person visiting our Education Centre to learn about our political system, or a government minister diverted from the division lobby on the way to a vote, none of us was simply in Parliament that day; we were part of it, and everything it represents in terms of our past battles, and our future democratic journey.
The actions of Tobias Ellwood and all those who fought to save the life of PC Palmer without a second’s thought for their own safety, and the way in which passers-by on Westminster Bridge dropped everything to help and comfort the injured and dying, are just two examples of the huge personal courage and heroism in play that day.
It is through these acts, borne of empathy and selflessness, that evil such as we witnessed that Wednesday is destined, ultimately and always, to fail.
John Bercow is the Speaker of the House of Commons