MPs observe minute’s silence for Sri Lanka terror attack victims

By Elizabeth Arnold, Richard Wheeler and Alain Tolhurst, Press Association Political Staff
Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said the House passed on its 'deepest sympathies and condolences'.

MPs have observed a minute’s silence in the Commons in memory of those killed in the Sri Lanka terror attacks.

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said the whole House passed on its “deepest sympathies and condolences” as it digested a “truly heartbreaking situation”.

Mr Hunt confirmed at least eight Britons were among those killed while one locally employed British Council employee was “in hospital with his wife, both with serious injuries”.

Making a statement in the chamber, he said the “sheer brutality” of the attacks was “stark”, adding the Metropolitan Police’s counter-terrorism command has dispatched a team of specialists to Sri Lanka – which includes family liaison officers to support and assist the families of British victims.

He added: “There are no verified claims of responsibility as yet.”

Prime Minister Theresa May is expected to speak to her Sri Lankan counterpart Ranil Wickremesinghe later on Tuesday, he said.

Mr Hunt told the Commons: “These attacks were a primitive and vile attempt to sow division between people of different faiths.”

Concluding, he said: “To attack Christian worshippers on Easter, a celebration of peace and the holiest day in the Christian calendar, portrays in these attackers an absence of the most basic values of humanity.”

Shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry said: “I know that there are many questions to be asked about who was responsible for these attacks and what could have been done to prevent them but today frankly is not a time for those questions…

“Today is simply a time for this House and for this country to stand with the people of Sri Lanka and with those British families and those from around the world who have lost loved ones and express our shared solidarity and grief at the devastation that they have suffered.”

The West, she said, “must do our part too to help Sri Lanka recover from this horror by continuing to visit that beautiful country and showing the terrorists that they will not win”.

She added: “We should call it out for what it is, an act born of pure, vicious, mind-polluting hatred, perpetuated by sickening despicable individuals who don’t worship God, they worship death, whose only religion is hate.”

Former Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan Smith called on Britain to give “our greatest support to the Sri Lankan Government in pursing those who have conducted this terrible attack, but at the same time recognising that the Christian faith is about forgiveness”.

Mr Hunt added: “Forgiveness doesn’t mean the absence of justice and that’s why it’s absolutely essential that we support the Sri Lankan authorities in their determination to track down everyone responsible.

“We know that they have identified other people who have not yet been arrested who they are looking for at the moment and obviously for the safety and security of everyone in Sri Lanka it’s vital that they are found.”

On the motives, Mr Hunt said: “It seems clear that one of them was a religious motive to try and set faith against faith and one of them was a cultural motive to try and target Western tourists who are visiting Sri Lanka and we have to be alive to both of those.”

He added: “One of the things that we can do to support Sri Lanka is obviously, subject to travel advice which is very carefully kept under review, to continue to visit a country that depends on tourism to show our support, to show that we’re not going to be put off by this kind of terrorism.”

Labour’s Graham Stringer (Blackley and Broughton) paid tribute to the peer Baron Keith Bradley, a former MP for Manchester Withington, whose sister Dr Sally Bradley and her husband and ex-firefighter Bill Harrop were killed in Sri Lanka.

He said: “There can be no distinction between people who are the victims of crimes like this but there is something particularity monstrous and brutal when people who have dedicated their lives to public service are killed in this fashion.”

Mr Hunt thanked Mr Stringer for “reminding the House that behind all these tragedies are human beings”.