Following the tragic murder of Jo Cox, an advocate for voting to stay in next week’s referendum, campaigning over whether the U.K. should quit the European Union was suspended for a second day on Friday. Events planned by the two main campaign groups were canceled, while publication of opinion polls and an International Monetary Fund report were delayed until the weekend as tributes were paid to Cox. Prime Minister David Cameron, Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne and Bank of England Governor Mark Carney all canceled or shortened appearances on Thursday, while the polling company BMG said it would delay a referendum poll due to be published on Friday by 24 hours. As Reuters adds, the murder “has thrown a June 23 referendum on European Union membership into limbo.“
As we reported yesterday, Cox, 41, was shot dead in the town of Birstall, northern England, in the early afternoon on Thursday. It was the first killing of a member of Parliament in more than two decades, since the days of Irish Republican terrorism. Cox was elected to the House of Commons last year and had taken an active part in the campaign to keep Britain in the EU. On Wednesday, her husband, Brendan, had taken their two young children out onto the River Thames to fly an “IN” flag from a motorboat.
Her murder followed an increasingly acrimonious debate over the referendum, with opinion polls putting “Vote Leave” ahead by several percentage points. Even sadder, her death was used as a catalyst by the market to push asset prices higher, because as Deutsche Bank’s Jim Ried admitted, “while it seems insensitive to talk about markets in relation to this event, unfortunately this story heavily influenced them yesterday.” What he means is that in response to what many have seen as a politically motivated killing, the odds of “Leave” as expected to fall. While there are no official polls today, the bookies have already priced this effect, and as we showed earlier, Brexit odds fell leading to a rebound in Sterling, and global assets.
As Bloomberg reports, Clarke Rothwell, an eyewitness to Cox’s killing, said he had seen a man shoot and then stab her. “The words I heard him say was ‘Britain First’ or ‘Put Britain First’,” Rothwell said in a BBC television interview. “He shouted it at least twice.” Other have contested this account however by now it is already part of the narrative. Dee Collins, West Yorkshire Police’s temporary chief constable, said in a televised news conference that police were “not in a position to discuss any motive.” She said a 52-year-old man had been arrested and police weren’t looking for anyone else after recovering a number of weapons. The BBC said the man had been named locally as Tommy Mair.
“Britain First,” which the arrested man is alleged to have shouted, is the name of a group that campaigns against immigration and Britain’s EU membership. A video on the group’s website showed activists learning combat techniques at a “training camp” in the Snowdonia mountains of North Wales. In a statement on the site, the group said it “obviously is NOT involved and would never encourage behavior of this sort.”
Thomas Mair, 46, started volunteering at the park after learning about the opportunity through the Mirfield-based Pathways Day Centre for adults with mental health problems. He said: “I can honestly say it has done me more good than all the psychotherapy and medication in the world.”
Reuters admits as much: family members, including his brother, said that Mair had not expressed strong political views, the Guardian newspaper reported. “He has a history of mental illness but he has had help,” the Guardian quoted his brother, Scott Mair, as saying. “My brother is not violent and is not all that political. I don’t even know who he votes for.” Neighbors described a man who had lived in the same house for at least 40 years and helped locals weed their flowerbeds and inquired after their pets.
Though the motives of the killer were not immediately clear, some suggested sympathy for Cox could boost the Remain campaign which opinion polls indicate had fallen behind Leave.
Police said they were not in a position to discuss the motive of the attack. “Jo believed in a better world and she fought for it every day of her life with an energy and a zest for life that would exhaust most people,” Cox’s husband, Brendan, said. “She would have wanted two things above all else to happen now, one that our precious children are bathed in love and two, that we all unite to fight against the hatred that killed her.”
Meanwhile, as Reuters adds, a U.S. civil rights group the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), based in Alabama, said on its website that it had obtained records showing a Thomas Mair had links with the neo-Nazi organization National Alliance (NA) dating back to 1999. The SPLC posted images showing what it said were purchase orders for books bought by Mair, whose address is given as Batley, from the NA’s publishing arm National Vanguard Books in May of that year. The orders included a manual on how to build a pistol, it said.
Until more information is released, Britain is mourning: Britain’s Union flag was flying at half-mast over the Houses of Parliament, Queen Elizabeth’s London residence Buckingham Palace and Downing Street, where Prime Minister David Cameron has his official residence. In Birstall hundreds of people attended a vigil at a local church. Queen Elizabeth was due to write a private letter of condolence to Cox’s husband. Some people, many weeping, laid flowers outside the Houses of Parliament. Beside a picture of Cox smiling, dozens of white candles lay beside bunches of flowers and a message board upon which people had written their condolences.
However, the real question is whether following today’s suspended Brexit campaign, whether the referendum will proceed as scheduled. For now it is unclear. Cameron canceled a planned speech to a rally in favor of EU membership in Gibraltar on Thursday. The International Monetary Fund said it was delaying a planned release of reports on the implications of the U.K. leaving the EU, while the polling company BMG said it would delay a referendum poll due to be published on Friday by 24 hours. The suspension of campaigning lifted the pound which fell in recent weeks as polls tightened.
Any hint that yesterday’s tragic event won’t impact the outcome, or the polling swinging ever stronger to “Leave” could mean a prompt return to volatility.
Needless to say, the biggest shock in all this is how violently the market now moves in response to human tragedy.
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