Southend-on-Sea is to be given city status in the wake of the murder of Sir David Amess, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced.
Sir David, first elected as MP for Basildon in 1983, was stabbed and tragically died while holding a constituency surgery on Friday.
Making the announcement to the House of Commons, the Prime Minister praised Sir David for his devotion to his constituency: “That Sir David spent almost 40 years in this House, but not one day in ministerial office, tells everything about where his priorities lay.”
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer called the designation “a fitting tribute to Sir David’s hard work”.
Champion of Southend-on-Sea
During his nearly four decades as an MP, Sir David was a tireless champion of the town’s cause, leading a campaign which gained significant local support. In a speech to Parliament in 2019, Sir David eulogised the town’s “community spirit, opportunities to develop skills, good restaurants and shops”, and cited the “longest pier in the world”, the 150-year-old rugby club, and a favourite local charity of his, the Music Man Project, which had “absolutely transformed” the lives of people with learning disabilities through the power of music.
“A very special day for the Borough of Southend-on-Sea”
Ian Gilbert, leader of Southend-on-Sea Borough Council, said: “Following the tragic death of Sir David, we saw calls from across the country to grant Southend-on-Sea city status in honour of Sir David, who was a continuous driving force in Parliament and beyond pushing for the Borough to become a city. His unwavering commitment to achieve this was clear for all to see, and I think there is no greater way to honour Sir David and his family, than to make Southend-on-Sea a city. I hope this honour will help to bring the community together in this difficult time.
“As we await more news from the Government on this, we can reflect that this is a very special day for the Borough of Southend-on-Sea, and I hope his family is immensely proud of his hard work.”
The town’s mayor, Margaret Borton, said: “Hearing the announcement from the Prime Minister today is a sombre but special moment. For the Borough to achieve city status is testament to how loved and well-respected Sir David was.
“My only wish is that Sir David could have seen this moment himself, because it has brought years of his tireless campaigning to fruition. I hope that this announcement will highlight the legacy that Sir David leaves us.”
Tributes pour in for Sir David
In a special debate in the House of Commons, tributes poured in for Sir David.
Boris Johnson said: “Our politics needs people like Sir David. Dedicated, passionate, firm in his belief, but never anything less than respectful of those who thought differently.”
Home Secretary Priti Patel added: “It’s agonising to know we won’t see his wonderful smile again… decency ran through him like the writing on a stick of Southend rock. Sir David Amess represented all that was good about this place.”
MP for Batley and Spen Kim Leadbeater spoke powerfully in the debate, drawing on her own experience of personal tragedy – her sister Jo Cox was also murdered while holding a constituency surgery, in 2016. She said: “For reasons I would never wish on anyone, I have a unique perspective on what those closest to David are going through. I want to send them my love, support and solidarity from myself, my parents, family and the people of Batley and Spen.”
Keir Starmer reflected on the effect that Jo Cox’s death had had on him and many in his party, and expressed his empathy for Sir David’s Conservative colleagues. “I remember just how acutely Jo’s loss was felt on these benches. So today, on behalf of the entire Labour Party I want to lean across, to reach across and to acknowledge the pain that’s felt on the opposite benches, and I do.”
Former Prime Minister Theresa May praised Sir David for his “extraordinary record of dedicated service”, saying: “Isn’t it fitting that his last acts were acts of service to his constituents”. Following the debate, MPs attended a remembrance service at St Margaret’s Church, in the grounds of Westminster Abbey.