The Guardian view on the Westminster attack: solidarity against terror -Editorial

It is the moment everyone feared would come. But it must be kept in proportion

An armed police officer gestures as he stands guard in Parliament Square
An armed police officer gestures as he stands guard in Parliament Square. Photograph: Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP/Getty Images

It was only ever a matter of time. This strike at parliament took aim directly at the heart of British democracy. It was perhaps meant to reach the prime minister – for today, the day of prime minister’s questions, was the one day when her movements would be well known – but more probably it was, like the attack in Berlin just before Christmas, simply an attempt to hit at a European centre of power. The earlier car attack on the dozens of tourists and office workers and three police officers on their way back from a commendation ceremony, caught walking across Westminster Bridge around 2.45pm, was plainly intended to magnify the terror.

This is the moment that everyone planned for and hoped would never happen, the Metropolitan police acting deputy commissioner, Mark Rowley, said at his first news conference afterwards. It was also the hardest kind of attack to stop, an apparently lone terrorist using low-tech weaponry seeking to do maximum harm, almost certain of death himself. He got through, but a dozen or more attacks have been foiled in Britain since 2013, 10 of them in the past two years. More than 500 live counter-terror investigations are under way at any given moment, Mr Rowley said recently. The police and the security forces have to be right all the time. The terrorists only need to be lucky once. It is important to hold on to that truth, and to remember that, terrible as the loss of life has been and grim as the aftermath will be, no one would want to live in the kind of world where such an attack had been made entirely impossible.

The security forces acted swiftly and courageously to protect parliament and the public. For the families of the dead, and for the injured, this is a horrendous, life-changing event. The shock and distress of eyewitnesses, trapped on buses or simply walking along the pavement, was evident in their voices and their faces as they spoke to reporters. Some of them behaved with impressive presence of mind, including the foreign office minister Tobias Ellwood, who tried to revive the fatally injured policeman.

The security forces and police have planned for what they call a “marauding attack” for years. The awful choreography of the response to terror was fast and well-rehearsed. The police officer who later died of his injuries stopped the attacker at the gates off Parliament Square. Before the man had gone a pace or two further, he himself was shot by an armed officer. These two courageous interventions almost certainly saved scores of lives in a busy area thronged with politicians, visitors and some of the hundreds of staff who work in the palace.

There will be many questions to ask in the coming days about what was known of the attacker and his associates, but for now, there can only be a wholehearted appreciation of the professionalism with which the police did their job.

What now? We often mock our political class, but it is worth remembering that being an MP has never been risk-free. In 1979, the IRA murdered the senior Tory MP Airey Neave with a car bomb only yards from where today’s attack took place. An MP died in the Brighton bomb in 1984, and another was murdered at his home in 1990. Last June, Jo Cox died at the hands of a rightwing extremist, Thomas Mair, as she made her way to her constituency surgery. Security at parliament is tighter than it has ever been. Its one obvious weakness was the main vehicle entrance into New Palace Yard, off the road linking Whitehall with other government offices. This is the very heart of government. It’s where tourists stand taking selfies through the open gates of the place that is still regarded around the world as the birthplace of modern democracy.

Today’s attack has long been anticipated. It is not an act of war. It must not be allowed to divide us one from the other. Terror’s purpose is to spread hate and division. The first protection against it must be solidarity.


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