Those who seek to divide us should be ignoredby Jack Dromey / March 28, 2017 / Leave a comment
Still reeling from the events of the past 24 hours, the community in Westminster went into work on Thursday morning in a state of shock. Sickened by the tragic events that had taken place outside, as names of those who had been killed and injured were still being announced, we gathered in the House of Commons to pay our tributes to them and their families.
We thanked the emergency servicemen and women who worked and are still working tirelessly to keep us safe. We paid particular tributes to hero PC Keith Palmer, who gave his life to save ours, and commended the bravery of Tobias Ellwood MP, who tried to save him. We reflected on the British values that gave rise to the million small acts of bravery and kindness that took place in the heat of the attack; the medical staff who ran courageously towards the chaos, the passers-by who stayed in the face of danger to comfort and tend to the injured, the stoicism and resilience of staff across the parliamentary estate who reassured their colleagues as they watched events unfold on their TV screens and out of their windows.
That bright and eerie morning was our chance as British Members of Parliament to pay tributes in the Commons, to thank the ordinary heroes of the day and to remind those who seek to do us harm that we will not cave to terrorism.
However, not all responded to Wednesday’s horrific events with the kindness and grace that the majority displayed. As we stood to pay our respects in Parliament, in one of the buildings that makes me most proud to be British, a small, shouty minority launched their expected tirade of hate. UKIP leader Paul Nuttall used the opportunity to appear on major news channels, making crude comparisons with cancer to imply that the Muslim community at large was somehow responsible. He should have taken his lead from the dignity of those who had been directly affected. His divisive remarks followed UKIP donor Arron Banks’ intimation whilst the tragedy was still ongoing that Theresa May was somehow to blame for letting “illegals” into our country. Nigel Farage asserted that “uncontrolled immigration” was to blame.
Leaving aside the fact that the attacker was from Kent, meaning that no clamp down on “illegals” would have prevented this, Farage and co misunderstood a fundamental aspect of what it is to be British. They forgot that Britain is compassionate, tolerant and fiercely proud of its democracy. They misinterpreted the overwhelming sense of solidarity that united people in the aftermath of the attacks and made us so collectively proud of the actions of the heroes who emerged. They made the same mistake that they made in their failed campaign to elect Nuttall in Stoke-on-Trent. There, he tried to sow hatred and division—and failed. That is why he was making his nasty intervention outside on the pavement, rather than in the chamber.
For many of the MPs who were there on Wednesday, this was not the first experience we have had of the fear that comes with experiencing a terrorist attack so close to home. Painfully fresh in our minds was the coldblooded murder of our friend and colleague Jo Cox last June. Her admirable husband Brendan warned against toxic rhetoric when he said: “What the terrorist would like to happen is for us to fall apart and start blaming groups of people, to say that in some way this is Muslim or Islam as a whole.” He continued “We have to remember that the person who did this is no more representative of British Muslims than the person who killed Jo is representative of people that are from Yorkshire.”
Many of us also remembered living through the years when terrorist threats came from across the Irish Sea, and I know many colleagues with personal stories of being caught up in IRA attacks. We remember the fear of people of Irish descent of abuse on the street, the jokes and accusations of terrorism, the social shunning that too often followed.
Ultimately, as they always have and always will, British unity and compassion will win out. Britain is a country in which people from different backgrounds live together in harmony. We are proud of our diversity, our tolerance and our strength in community. Our rich and multifaceted identity as a country was neatly summed up by a widely-shared tweet on the day; “Sikh police officer addressed MPs in Westminster; in a city run by a Muslim mayor; in a country run by the daughter of a vicar. All British.”
The prime minister agreed with me when I spoke in Parliament on Thursday morning to say that it is critical that we do not demonise and divide any community in the aftermath of these hateful attacks.
The attack was an assault on our safety, on our democracy and on our thriving capital city. Yet as events unfolded, we have stood together as political parties, communities, cultures and faiths. Britain will not be defeated by those who seek to divide. For as long as they continue to misunderstand Britain’s proud values, the Paul Nuttalls of this country will remain outside, shouting in vain at a camera. The rest of us will get on with our jobs.