Southend to get city status in honour of Sir David Amess, Boris Johnson says

18 October 2021, 15:42 | Updated: 18 October 2021, 16:33

By James Morris

Boris Johnson has said Southend will be granted city status as a tribute to the late Sir David Amess.

The prime minister said the Queen had agreed to the move.

Father-of-five Sir David, who was stabbed to death at a constituency surgery in Leigh-on-Sea on Friday, had long campaigned for his Essex town to be given city status.

Mr Johnson, leading emotional House of Commons tributes to Sir David this afternoon, said it was only a "short time" ago that Sir David had once again lobbied him over the issue.

And to huge cheers in the chamber, he confirmed: "I am happy to announce that Her Majesty has agreed that Southend will be accorded the city status it so clearly deserves."

Boris Johnson confirmed Sir David Amess's long-standing campaign for Southend to get city status would be honoured
Boris Johnson confirmed Sir David Amess's long-standing campaign for Southend to get city status would be honoured. Picture: Alamy/Parliamentlive.tv

Following the Southend West MP's death, a number of MPs had called for the town to get city status in honour of Sir David's famous campaign.

Among them was deputy PM Dominic Raab, who told LBC's Nick Ferrari this morning: "It feels like a certain inevitability about this campaign.

"I think it will be a very fitting tribute if it should come to pass."

Following the announcement, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said he was "so pleased".

"It is a fitting tribute to Sir David's hard work, it really is.

"Fitting, because David delivered for the causes he championed. He passed a bill that forced action on fuel poverty, he paved the way for better standards of fire safety and delivered protections for animal welfare."

Matt Dent, a Labour councillor for the Kursaal ward in Southend, responded to the announcement by saying: "Anyone he spoke to, he spoke to them about Southend becoming a city. He worked every topic around it. I can't think of a better tribute to the man."

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Meanwhile, Mr Johnson also said of the Conservative MP, who never held a ministerial role in his four decades in the Commons: "That Sir David spent almost 40 years in this House, but not one day in ministerial office, tells everything about where his priorities lay."

The PM said the country "needs people like Sir David".

"While his death leaves a vacuum that will not and can never be filled, we will cherish his memory, we will celebrate his legacy, and we will never allow those who commit acts of evil to triumph over the democracy and the Parliament that Sir David Amess loved so much."

Sir David Amess
Sir David Amess. Picture: Getty

Nearly all House of Commons business was suspended today in order to allow MPs to pay tribute to Sir David, who had served as an MP for 38 years.

This afternoon's Commons tributes came after Sir David's devastated family visited the church where the killing happened.

A sea of tributes had been left outside Belfairs Methodist Church over the weekend, including from Mr Johnson himself.

Sir David's family members at the scene of the killing today
Sir David's family members at the scene of the killing today. Picture: Alamy

Counter-terrorism officers are quizzing a 25-year-old – understood to be Ali Harbi Ali, a British citizen – who is in custody after being arrested on suspicion of murder.

It is thought he was born in the UK after his family fled Somalia in the 1990s.

He is reportedly the son of a former adviser to the prime minister of Somalia, with other relatives apparently having been in diplomatic or advisory roles for the country's government.

The Times said his father, Harbi Ali Kullane, had confirmed his son had been arrested.

According to unconfirmed reports, Ali went to secondary school in Croydon and is claimed to have trained as an NHS doctor after studying at medical school.

The Met Police said the early investigation revealed a "potential motivation linked to Islamist extremism".

But it is understood the suspect was not, and had not previously been, a subject of interest (SOI) for the security services.

MI5 investigates around 3,000 SOIs and has about 600 live investigations at any one time. There are also around 40,000 "closed" SOIs: those who have been looked into previously. Significant numbers of SOIs are overseas.