The EU refendum and the murder of Jo Cox

SACC Statement, 20 June 2016

The death of Jo Cox MP was an appalling personal tragedy and our deepest sympathies go out to her family and friends. It is also a political matter.

In calling out "Death to traitors, freedom for Britain" when asked to give his name in court, Thomas Mair has made it clear that he wants the murder of Jo Cox to be seen as a fascist assassination and an act of terror.

There is no indication of how Thomas Mair will plead. Legal proceedings are active, and further comment on the case is inappropriate.

However, SACC believes that the likelihood of violence of this sort is greatly increased by the inflammatory statements made by Britain First, is fuelled by the virulently racist statements that they and other far-right groups have made, and is given oxygen by the anti-immigrant and racist views expressed by mainstream political parties and in the media. Police and prosecutors have for many years been far too reluctant to bring charges relating to racism against far-right groups, and have been incomprehensibly tolerant of blatant incitement by Britain First. The government's Prevent strategy has relentlessly promoted an official culture of Islamophobia and has at the same time undermined efforts to deal with far-right extremism in a meaningful political context.

Some commentators say that the murder of Jo Cox should not be politicised. But it was a political event, and it does a disservice to political culture to treat it as anything else. What is needed is a political response that robustly avoids the politics of the gutter, the slaughter-house and the spin doctor.

Jo Cox supported a "remain" vote in the EU referendum. SACC has no collective view on the EU referendum. Our supporters include people who support both a "leave" and a "remain" vote. We are confident that none of them wish to promote racism or xenophobia in any form, or wish for conditions for migrants and refugees to be made more difficult than they already are.

SACC will continue to campaign for a rolling back of the obstacles that have been put in the path of migrants and refugees, and for equal rights and equal access to benefits for everyone in this country, regardless of citizenship. Whoever will prioritise these demands, and fight for them vigorously whether in Europe or out of it, is our ally.

Thomas Mair has been charged with the murder of Jo Cox, grievous bodily harm, possession of a firearm with intent to commit an indictable offence and possession of an offensive weapon. There have been suggestions that he should be charged with a terrorism offence. That is not our view, and it reflects a misunderstanding of the way that the UK's terrorism laws operate. Terrorism charges tend to be brought when it is clear that no offence under the ordinary criminal law has been committed, or when there is a distinct possibility that charges under the ordinary criminal law won't succeed.

Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale were not convicted of any terrorism offence in connection with the killing of Lee Rigby in May 2013, but were simply convicted of his murder. There is nothing discriminatory about the charging decisions in these two cases. Britain's terrorism laws are nevertheless structurally racist and islamophobic to such a degree that they amount to a parallel justice system for Muslims. SACC campaigns for their repeal.

Media coverage of both the Lee Rigby and Jo Cox murders was, to say the very least, careless of the contempt laws. In the Lee Rigby case the prejudicial coverage turned out to be more or less irrelevant to the legal proceedings. It is impossible to say whether that will turn out to be the case this time.

In responding to the murder of Jo Cox, the media were very much more open to highlighting claims that the suspect suffered from mental health problems than in the Lee Rigby case, and were also much more willing to present him as loner, and to downplay the likelihood and significance of links with others. It isn't possible to correct this without further undermining the prospects for a fair trial. The discriminatory media coverage has nevertheless done fresh damage to the already bruised relationship between the British establishment and the Muslim community.