The presidents of the Senate and the House of Representatives have expressed their condolences on behalf of the Swiss parliament following the murder of Jo Cox, a Labour Party politician who had praised the contribution of immigrants to Britain and championed the cause of war-scarred Syrian refugees.
“Our thoughts go to the victim’s friends and family and to our British parliamentary colleagues,” said Christa Markwalder, president of the House of Representatives, in a message of solidarity delivered partly in English. “The brutal murder is an attack on our society and its values.”
For Raphaël Comte, president of the Senate, the “cowardly” attack was proof that one could still die for – and because of – one’s ideas.
“This drama should make us aware of the importance in our democracies of respect for different views,” he said. “No one should be insulted, intimidated or even killed on account of their convictions.”
The tragic event must remind politicians of their responsibility, he added. “Violent words can always lead to violent action.”
Cox, 41, was killed on Thursday by a gun- and knife-wielding attacker in her small-town constituency, a tragedy that brought the country’s fierce, divisive referendum campaign to a shocked standstill. On Thursday, voters will decide whether Britain remains a member of the European Union.
Police would not speculate on the attacker’s motive, but witnesses have said the assailant shouted “Britain first!” several times. Police did not confirm that account.
Witnesses described a man shooting Cox, a supporter of Britain staying in the EU, several times and then stabbing her as she lay on the pavement. Police said they had arrested a 52-year-old man and were not looking for anyone else.
Britain’s Union Jack flag was flying at half-mast over the Houses of Parliament, Downing Street and Buckingham Palace.
Gun ownership is highly restricted in Britain and attacks of any nature on public figures are rare. The most recent British lawmaker to have been killed in an attack was Ian Gow, who died after a bomb planted by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) exploded under his car at his home in southern England in 1990.
Switzerland was shaken in September 2001, when a lone gunman walked into the parliament in canton Zug and opened fire with a semi-automatic weapon. He killed 14 people – three members of the cantonal government and 11 lawmakers – before turning the gun on himself.
The gunman, who bore a grudge against the legal system which he felt had treated him unfairly, left another 18 people injured, some of them seriously.
Security was tightened at public buildings and ministers were given better protection.
In general, however, Swiss politicians – most of whom have day jobs since parliament gathers only four times a year – remain approachable and walk around unguarded.