Our values will prevail, defiant Theresa May tells MPs as parliament resumes

Heather Stewart and Patrick Wintour

Theresa May told MPs “our values will prevail” as she delivered a defiant statement to a packed House of Commons less than 24 hours after the attack on Westminster.

May said that parliament, and the UK, “will not be cowed” by terrorism.

In an effort to emphasise business as usual, May’s spokesman later confirmed she would press ahead with invoking article 50, the formal divorce process from the EU, next Wednesday as planned.

The prime minister had warmly paid tribute to PC Keith Palmer, who lost his life defending parliament, and the other victims who were killed and injured when Khalid Masood drove his vehicle across Westminster Bridge, ploughing into pedestrians.

“PC Palmer had devoted his life to the service of his country,” she said. “He had been a member of the parliamentary and diplomatic protection command for 15 years, and a soldier in the Royal Artillery before that. He was a husband and a father, killed doing a job he loved. He was every inch a hero. And his actions will never be forgotten.”

She thanked her colleague, the Bournemouth East MP Tobias Ellwood, who tried to save Palmer’s life.

MP Tobias Ellwood listens to speeches in Parliament the morning after an attack in Westminster. Photograph: Reuters

“Yesterday, an act of terrorism tried to silence our democracy. But today we meet as normal, as generations have done before us and as future generations will continue to do, to deliver a simple message: we are not afraid and our resolve will never waver in the face of terrorism. And we meet here in the oldest of all parliaments because we know democracy and the values it entails will always prevail,” the prime minister said.

She listed the nationalities of those injured, underlining the global nature of London and its visitors. “In addition to 12 Britons admitted to hospital, we know the victims include three French children, two Romanians, four South Koreans, one German, one Pole, one Irish, one Chinese, one Italian, one American and two Greeks,” she said.

The French foreign minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, was sitting in the public gallery of the chamber to hear May’s statement, and rose to show his support when the Speaker, John Bercow, called him. The prime minister thanked the French government for its solidarity.

Later in the day, the prime minister visited victims of the attack in hospital. Speaking to journalists in mid-afternoon, May’s spokesman said: “She has recently returned to Downing Street from a private visit to a hospital, where she spent around 40 minutes speaking to victims of yesterday’s events and hospital staff, to thank them for their work.”

Many MPs had spent much of Wednesday penned in the parliamentary estate – including about 300 in the Commons chamber – as the police secured the area. As May delivered her statement in the chamber, police helicopters hovered overhead and a police cordon remained in place around Westminster, but MPs from across the political spectrum were determined to show that they were continuing with business as usual.

May confirmed, as she said in her statement on Wednesday evening, that the terrorist threat level would not be increased as a result of the incident.

The threat level to the UK has been “severe” – meaning an attack is highly likely – for some time. It is the second highest threat level. The highest level, “critical”, means there is specific intelligence that an attack is imminent. As there was no such intelligence, the independent Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre had decided that the threat level would not change in the light of Wednesday’s attack, she said.

The Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, responded to the prime minister’s statement, saying: “What happened yesterday was an appalling atrocity. Today, we are united by our humanity, by our democratic values and by that human impulse for solidarity to stand together in times of darkness and adversity.”

The Conservative MP James Cleverly paid tribute to Palmer, who he had known well as a gunner in the Royal Artillery. Cleverly asked the prime minister to consider formally honouring his bravery.

“He was a strong, professional public servant and it was a delight to meet him here again only a few months after being elected. Would my right honourable friend the prime minister, in recognition of the work that he did and the other police officers and public servants in the house do, consider recognising his gallantry and sacrifice formally with a posthumous recognition?”

May appeared emotional as she replied, saying: “I thank my honourable friend for the obvious, not just compassion, but passion that he has given about an individual he knew ... having served in our armed forces and then come here to this place and paid the ultimate sacrifice here at our heart of democracy, I can assure my honourable friend that the issue he’s raised is, of course, one that will be considered in due course.”

May’s spokesman said she had received a series of phone calls from world leaders, including Angela Merkel, François Hollande and Donald Trump, offering their condolences and support, and had herself signed a book of condolence in parliament.

Boris Johnson, the foreign secretary, who was in New York for a meeting of the UN security council, called for “a period of reflection” on how terrorist incidents are relayed round the world on TV and social media. At present there are few direct controls on what TV companies broadcast, although the police can make private requests for footage not to be shown if it can be proven it will aid terrorists during an incident.

Johnson called for media conglomerates to do more to take down Islamic State propaganda to prevent on line radicalisation.

He said: “I do think the responsibility for this most lies with the internet providers, with those that are responsible for great social media companies. They have got to look at the stuff that is going up on their sites. They have got to take steps to invigilate it and to take it down where they can. Everyone has a responsibility in this.

“I do believe we need to go through a period of reflection about how we transmit images of these events around the world in real time.”

Johnson was in the US for meetings with key figures in the republican administration and to attend a meeting of the global coalition against terrorism.

He said: “Our values are superior, our view of the world is better and more generous and our will is stronger.”

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