Last Wednesday showed that we are at our strongest when we are facing the greatest adversity. I was expecting the day to be about wringing promises from the Government to make sure the M20 lorry park is ready on schedule. That and marking the 100th Birthday week of Dame Vera Lynn. At 12.20pm I duly rose from my place in a packed House of Commons and got the Prime Ministerial pledge I was seeking for our community.
Just a few hours later it all seemed so insignificant and so long ago. At 2.40pm, as Khalid Masood mowed down innocent pedestrians on Westminster Bridge, I was just leaving the Commons Chamber. I went upstairs to the committee room where we on the Public Accounts Committee were about to interview a senior civil servant. Suddenly the sitting was suspended and it became clear that there had been a terrible incident at the gates of Parliament. I looked out of the window at Westminster Bridge and noticed ambulances spread across the bridge. The incident at the gates was not the only one.
In the fog of events it was hard to know what had happened. There was a fear that these might be co-ordinated, diversionary attacks. Armed police swept through Parliament checking every room just in case there were attackers in the building. Only later did we come to know it was the work of a lone wolf – the hardest of attacks to detect. Masood was not some foreign fighter come to our shores to kill. He was one of our own countrymen, born and bred here. He was a long standing violent criminal who had been radicalised.
The hearts of all of us go out to those who were murdered, their families and loved ones. Police officer Keith Palmer fell in the line of duty. He gave his life to save those of others. He protected our democracy. He acted with the greatest heroism and the most conspicuous courage in circumstances of extreme danger. I shall be writing to the Honours Committee making the case he should be awarded the George Cross – and I hope I will do so with your support.
What happened last week was shocking to us all. As a nation we are united in grief for these terrible events. Yet it is also important to recognise that, thanks to the police and security services, this attack failed. It underlines that in our efforts to prevent radicalisation we are doing the right thing. We must work harder to prevent people getting radicalised – and we must make sure that our Parliament continues to be open for all in our democracy to visit and see. Because freedom is the cornerstone of our way of life and our democracy must be an open democracy. These are key values to us all and we must never compromise them.
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