Jo Cox: Brussels renames square in honour of murdered Labour MP

Mayor says name will remind citizens of need to preserve the ideals the MP espoused

Jon Stone
Thursday 27 September 2018 15:04 BST
Jeremy Corbyn pays tribute to Jo Cox as Brussels square named after her

The city of Brussels has officially named one of its squares after Jo Cox, the Labour MP murdered by a right-wing extremist during the Brexit referendum campaign.

A smart blue road sign bearing Ms Cox’s name was unveiled at a ceremony on Thursday attended by the city’s mayor, Jeremy Corbyn, members of Ms Cox’s family, and other politicians and citizens.

Speaking at the memorial, which took place on a sunny autumn afternoon, Philippe Close, the Mayor of Brussels, said Ms Cox had “died for a universal, yet fragile idea, that we have a duty to continue pursuing”.

The road sign in the centre of the Belgian capital
The road sign in the centre of the Belgian capital (Jon Stone for The Independent)

He told an assembled crowd that he wanted the square’s name to remind the citizens of Brussels and its visitors of the values the MP espoused: “peace and solidarity” and “the emancipation of the most disadvantaged”.

Also speaking at the memorial in the Belgian capital, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said “thank you to the people of Brussels for this wonderful, truly wonderful gesture”.

He said of Ms Cox: “She always gave this message: that we have far more in common and far more that unites us than ever could possibly divide us.

“So she treated people as they should be treated: with respect, wherever she worked; in Congo, in other parts of Africa, and other parts of the world, always trying to bring people together and bring about peace.

I would like to think in years to come we can bring Jo’s children to Place Jo Cox in happier and more settled times

Kim Leadbeater, sister

“I think it’s a wonderful gesture that you, the mayor and the council of Brussels have decided to name this square in her memory: so that generations on, people can enjoy being in this square on beautiful days like this, enjoying music, enjoying food, enjoying life, and enjoying understanding each other.

“And understanding that we can achieve a world free from war and a world of justice and a world of respect, and that we reach out the hand to those that are victims of that: be they refugees, homeless people, those that are just trying to find a place of safety. I think in Jo’s memory we will all strive to do that.”

The small, peaceful square is behind the Ancienne Belgique concert venue, where Ms Cox regularly visited to enjoy music while she lived in Brussels. Before becoming an MP she lived in the city for six years working for the humanitarian organisation Oxfam.

A small a capella choir sang two songs to mark the occasion: an anti-apartheid folk song, as well as a Balkan folk song after which Ms Cox had named the London houseboat in which she lived as an MP.

Kim Leadbeater, the murdered MP’s sister, said she hoped to be able to bring her late sibling’s children to the square in “more settled times” to remember their mother.

“After Jo was killed it felt like there was a real hope that some things would change. Obviously for us everything changed forever, but beyond that I think a lot of people hoped that the violent assassination of a young mother of two small children on the streets where she grew up would have a profound and long-lasting effect on the political discourse in the UK and beyond,” she said.

“However, over two years later and despite many people working extremely hard to ensure that Jo’s murder was not in vain, I am sadly not at all sure that this is the case. As well as being a celebration of Jo’s life I feel that today is also an opportune time to reflect on this.”

She added: “I would like to think in years to come we can bring Jo’s children to Place Jo Cox in happier and more settled times, and we can remember mummy: her compassion, her kindness, and the humanitarian values she held in a city she loved where she lived for six years, had many happy times, and made some deep and meaningful friendships. I really hope that this is the case.”

Mr Close, the city’s mayor, said: “Jo Cox died for her ideals: ideals of peace, solidarity, which translated into a humanitarian commitment in Bosnia, Darfur, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and then a political commitment in the House of Commons and in her constituency of Batley and Spen: always pursuing the emancipation of the most disadvantaged.

“Could anyone have thought that in today’s society defending these values of social progress and openness to others would generate murderous hate?

“Jo Cox was fatally wounded on 16 June 2016 during the Brexit campaign simply guilty of freely expressing her ideals. Jo Cox died for a universal, yet fragile idea, that we have a duty to continue pursuing. I wish for the name of Jo Cox to be preserved in the heart of Brussels and associated with the idea in which so many of us believe.”

As the Belgian capital is officially bilingual the square will be known as Place Jo Cox in French, or Jo Cox Plein in Flemish.

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