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Welcome to the new CITY of Southend: Queen grants Essex seaside resort gleaming new status

The Queen has granted Southend city status in tribute to Conservative MP Sir David Amess, the veteran politician who led a decades-long campaign for the move for the Essex seaside town until he was allegedly murdered by a suspected terrorist. 

Boris Johnson announced the move today in the Commons as he led passionate cross-party tributes in the House to one of the 'nicest, kindest and most gentle' of parliamentarians.

Southend was one of several towns competing for city status as part of the Queen's Platinum Jubilee celebrations in June next year, with Sir David having pushed for the recognition for at least two decades.  

With a population of around 183,000, Southend is a large coastal town and is home to the longest pleasure pier in the world, Southend Pier, measuring 1.33 miles. It also has London Southend Airport less than two miles north of the town centre.  

Cities historically were settlements with cathedrals, which is why small places such as Ely in Cambridgeshire and Salisbury remain cities. But having a cathedral is no longer an official requirement for a city-aspiring town. In recent years, towns have been able to apply to the Government for city status via competitions by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.

At the last competition, held to honour the Queen's Diamond Jubilee nine years ago, three towns were granted city status - Perth, Chelmsford and St Asaph. In 2002, Preston became a city, while Brighton and Wolverhampton were granted the upgrade to mark the turn of the millennium.   

The Prime Minister praised the Southend West MP as a politician who 'simply wanted to serve the people of Essex' as a backbench Conservative. He vowed that the 'contemptible act of violence' that took Sir David's life on Friday at a constituency surgery would not 'detract from his accomplishments as a politician or as a human being'.

Mr Johnson added that Sir David was a 'seasoned campaigner of verve and grit' who 'never once witnessed any achievement by any resident of Southend that could not somehow be cited in his bid to secure city status for that distinguished town'. 

'As it is only a short time since Sir David last put that very case to me in this chamber, I am happy to announce that Her Majesty has agreed that Southend will be accorded the city status it so clearly deserves,' the Prime Minister said, to cheers from MPs. Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the city status for the seaside town is a 'fitting tribute to Sir David's hard work'.

It followed a minute's silence and Sir David's widow visiting Belfairs Methodist Church to read tributes left outside the scene where he was fatally stabbed. Lady Julia Amess wiped tears from her eyes and was comforted by relatives as they made an emotional visit to the Leigh-on-Sea church. 

The Queen has granted Southend city status in tribute to Conservative MP Sir David Amess. Pictured: Southend beach

File photo of a man tending to his beach hut in Southend-on-Sea, Essex

A man skates along the promenade in Southend, Essex on October 18, 2021

File photo of a jogger running along the sea front in Southend-on-Sea, Essex

Sir David had led a decades-long campaign for the move for the Essex seaside town until his death last Friday

Boris Johnson announced the move today in the Commons as he led passionate cross-party tributes in the House to one of the 'nicest, kindest and most gentle' of parliamentarians

The Prime Minister leaving Number 10 Downing Street for the House of Commons to lead tributes to Sir David

David Amess murder suspect's father 'despises terrorists' after 'being targeted by Islamists when working for Somali government' it is revealed, amid claims his son 'was flagged as extremism risk by teachers' 

The father of the suspect accused of murdering Sir David Amess was given death threats by jihadis and 'despises terrorists' after being intimidated by al-Shabaab extremists in his native Somalia, it was revealed today.

Ali Harbi Ali, 25, is being held by police on suspicion of murdering the veteran Conservative MP with 17 blows of his knife as he met with his Southend West constituents on Friday afternoon.

It is believed the suspected Islamist terrorist may have chosen his alleged victim at random.

His father Harbi Ali Kullane was once a spin doctor for the prime minister of Somalia before fleeing the country for London just before his eldest son Ali was born in Southwark in 1996. He went on to have three more children with his wife and friends have described as a 'very respectable couple' in South London who were moderate Muslims and allowed their children to attend their local Church of England primary school.

A security source said: 'He was quite involved in countering al-Shabaab's message in his role as comms director, and he received death threats from them for doing so, which is common for anyone involved in a high-profile position in the government'.

But his son was referred to an official deradicalisation course after a teacher spotted his extremist views at least five years ago after becoming a 'huge fan' of hate preacher Anjem Choudary - and this may go some way to explaining why he is estranged from his parents.

Vicky Ford, the Conservative MP for Chelmsford, tweeted: 'At this time of great sadness it is utterly fitting that Southend WILL a become a City. Greetings from Chelmsford, Essex's other City.'

The MP representing neighbouring Southend East has described Sir David as a 'great man', and thanked the Prime Minister for announcing the move to city status.

Conservative James Duddridge described Roman Catholic Sir David as 'a family man' and 'a great man'.

'David was a man of faith and convictions,' he said. 'Faith in his religion, and convictions in his politics. He was above and beyond everything else a family man, and a very funny man. He'd often break all the rules, cutting through pomp and ceremony, and connecting with people.'

Mr Duddridge, describing Sir David's character, said the late MP would frequently make up stories when introducing him to others, for example introducing him as a lottery millionaire when attending a charity fundraiser. And he told 'the story of boiled sweet', describing how on a trip to the Vatican Sir David once accidentally had a boiled sweet blessed by the Pope.

Mr Duddridge thanked the Prime Minister for announcing that Southend will be made a city, saying 'it means a lot to everybody, it really does'.

He said: 'The impact of David's death has been profound on the city. Southend are in shock. And I am in shock.'

He added: 'I know this is going to be a long process. We don't want to be the city where the MP was murdered', and instead said he wanted Southend to be known for characteristics such as its pier, airport and football.

Ian Gilbert, leader of Southend-on-Sea Borough Council, said he felt a 'mixture of emotions' after hearing the news that Southend would be granted city status.

He said: 'It is clearly what Sir David would have wanted, that has been made clear by his family and his close colleagues over the past couple of days.

'While I don't want it to have come in these circumstances, I'm still pleased and proud that it is happening.

'It is something that Sir David was extremely passionate about. Members of Parliament will tell you that he worked on the claim for Southend to be given city status almost every time he spoke in the House. This was something that he cared about.

'I'm proud of the council and the community and very humbled and thankful for Sir David's work to bring this about and I hope that after the difficulties that we have gone through, this will bring people together.'

Southend United Football Club tweeted: 'The city of Southend. A fitting tribute to MP Sir David Amess.'

A local shop worker from Southend said it is 'great news' that the seaside town will be granted city status.

Lee Jordison, 40, who works at Hicks butchers in Leigh-on-Sea, told the PA news agency: 'I think it's great news and a fitting tribute to a man who campaigned for so long to want to have Southend awarded city status. I'm sure the town of Southend will be equally as happy!

'It's just a real shame he never got to see it happen but I'm sure his family will be proud that this was honoured because of him.'

Mr Jordison said he saw the aftermath of the incident at Belfairs Methodist Church, where Sir David was fatally attacked, after seeing emergency services headed to the scene.

File photo of a woman playing crazy golf at Southend-on-Sea in Essex

File photo of properties along the seafront at Southend, Essex

With a population of around 183,000, Southend is a large coastal town and is home to the longest pleasure pier in the world, Southend Pier, measuring 1.33 miles. It also has London Southend Airport less than two miles north of the town centre

Members of the public walk down the high street in Southend on October 18, 2021

File photo of people enjoying the rides at Adventure Island in Southend on Sea, Essex

Julia Amess (left) the widow of Conservative MP Sir David Amess, stands with friends and family members to view flowers and tributes left for her late husband at Belfairs Methodist Church in Eastwood Road North

Dominic Raab says security guards could be used to protect MPs at surgeries instead of police officers and is 'happy to look at' politicians wearing stab proof vests - as he reveals threats to 'life and limb' 

Dominic Raab today backed proposals for all MPs to have private security at their surgeries instead of police guards after the murder of Sir David Amess and revealed he has had three threats to 'life and limb' since 2019 including an acid attack.

The Deputy Prime Minister has said he wouldn't want plain clothes officers outside his surgeries as it would have a 'chilling effect' - but wouldn't criticise MPs who ask for it and also said he was 'happy to look' at whether politicians should wear stab vests.

Mr Raab also signalled he could support closing anonymous social media accounts to tackle online hatred and claimed that there is now the 'constant vilification of MPs' in the UK.

It came as Priti Patel said that police may be drafted in to guard MPs during surgeries and that airport-style scanners would also be considered in the wake of Sir David's murder in Leigh-on-Sea on Friday lunchtime.

But Mr Raab rejected the idea of plainclothes police protecting him and said: 'I would be more inclined to look at private security guards and there's already more money for that'.

He told Sky News: 'I probably wouldn't choose to have them (plainclothes police) outside a surgery that I had. I would worry about the chilling effect, I'm not sure it's necessary to have that.'

Mr Raab also revealed that has had three threats to 'life and limb' over the past two years - and said the most recent threat he has received was of an acid attack.

In March 2018, Theresa May, then Prime Minister, was being quizzed over Anglo-Russian relations following the recent Salisbury poisonings - but Sir David had other priorities.

During Prime Minister's Questions, he asked Mrs May if she was aware that a charity for learning difficulties in his constituency had just broken the world record for dinging the most triangles - and whether or not she thought, as he did, that this was enough of a reason to make Southend-on-Sea a city.

At the Westminster Dog of Year contest this year, Sir David entered his French bulldog Vivienne. Asked why she should win, he said: 'Because she is an enthusiastic supporter of Southend becoming a city.'

MPs were sharing experiences of receiving death threats as they grappled with the second murder of a colleague in five years. Labour's Jo Cox was killed by a Right-wing extremist outside a West Yorkshire library where she was due to hold a constituency surgery in 2016.

Home Secretary Priti Patel told the Commons that a review of policing for politicians is 'concluding literally in the next few days'.

Labour's Chris Bryant said a man has been arrested over a threat on his life in the wake of the murder of the MP for Southend West. A day after the latest killing, Mr Bryant said he received a death threat after returning from Qatar, where he has been investigating the situation faced by refugees from Afghanistan.

'I got back on Saturday and the first message in my inbox was this death threat, pretty clear, so I notified the police and they have taken action,' he told the PA news agency.

A South Wales Police spokeswoman said a 76-year-old man from Bridgend was arrested on suspicion of malicious communications after the threat levelled at the Labour MP.

Justice Secretary Dominic Raab spoke of having received at least three threats on 'life and limb' in the past two years, with the latest being an acid attack threat.

Mr Raab said colleagues - particularly women - have received 'worse abuse' than himself but that he has been the victim of three recent threats that required 'intervention'.

'I have had three threats to life and limb over the last two years,' the Deputy Prime Minister told BBC Breakfast.

He told ITV that the most recent was 'someone threatening to throw acid over me'.

While recognising the need for security, many MPs have been careful to warn against allowing the attack on Sir David to create detachment from their constituents.

Mr Raab said having plain-clothes police officers on the doors of surgeries with constituents could have a 'chilling effect' but he would understand if colleagues decided otherwise.

'We don't let the terrorists win by creating wedges or walls between us and those who vote us in,' he told Sky News.

Downing Street echoed the sentiment, insisting that the murder 'cannot get in the way of democracy' after suggestions MPs could end face-to-face surgeries with constituents.

Though he noted the decision will be up to individual MPs, the Prime Minister's official spokesman said: 'We will not be cowed by those who seek to divide us and spread hate and the PM has been struck by the bravery and commitment to serving constituents expressed by many MPs following Sir David's death.'

Brendan Cox, the widower of murdered Labour MP Jo Cox, warned supporters from across the political spectrum against a 'celebration of political segregation'.

'I think that is absolutely something that we have to challenge. And linked to that, we have to stop dehumanising our opponents,' he told Times Radio.

Following tributes in the House, a service was to be held in Sir David's honour nearby at St Margaret's Church.

Ali Harbi Ali, 25, was arrested at the scene on suspicion of Sir David's murder and remains in police custody. He has been detained under Section 41 of the Terrorism Act 2000 and detectives are expected to continue to question him until Friday after a warrant of further detention was granted.