LONDON â€” Lawmakers and lords, researchers and reporters, cleaners and catering staff returned to Britain’s Parliament Thursday, as Britain’s seat of government shook off its shock and got back to work after an attack that left two civilians and a policeman dead.
The Parliament complex is not just a political cockpit, but something much like a small town â€” complete with restaurants, shops, post office and hairdresser â€” in which thousands of people work.
Now, it is a community in mourning.
On Wednesday, an attacker plowed an SUV into pedestrians on nearby Westminster Bridge, killing two and wounding dozens, then stabbed police officer Keith Palmer inside the gates of Parliament. The assailant was shot dead by armed officers.
“The relationship between the police who guard us and members of both Houses â€” the Commons and the Lords â€” is very close,” former Liberal Democrat leader Menzies Campbell said. “If you come here, within a few weeks they know you. They are unfailingly polite, helpful â€” and, as we now know, incredibly brave.”
Campbell described the mood Thursday as “incredibly sombre.” He was returning to work after spending almost six hours Wednesday stuck in his House of Lords office as police locked down Parliament following the attack.
Members of the House of Commons were confined to the chamber and adjoining rooms for several hours â€” along with visitors including a group of schoolchildren who were kept calm and given candy by lawmakers.
Conservative lawmaker Nigel Evans said parliamentarians quickly realized how serious the situation was. He said he looked down from a window and “saw the SWAT team coming in and shouting,” and a terrified young researcher walking towards them with his hands up.
“That will remain with me,” said Evans, who survived the 1984 IRA bombing of Brighton’s Grand Hotel during a Conservative Party conference. He said Thursday that he was “still in shock.”
But across Parliament, shock vied with a determination to confront fear with what Prime Minister Theresa May called “millions of acts of normality.”
The giant Big Ben bell bonged reassuringly on the hour, and lawmakers resumed the everyday business of grilling ministers about everything from Brexit to an unpopular proposed incinerator.
It was not quite business as usual. A blue police tent stood in the cobbled square just inside the complex’s gates, and forensics officers in blue coveralls worked nearby.
The House of Commons opened with a minute’s silence in honour of the victims, and a sombre prime minister addressed lawmakers to condemn the attack, mourn the victims and salute the bravery of police and emergency services.
Around the sprawling complex, parliamentarians and staff chatted over coffee or conferred in corridors. But the mood remained jumpy. The sound of shouts from a police officer brought people rushing to windows. It was a false alarm â€” someone had wandered where they shouldn’t have.
Almost everyone who works in Parliament has considered the possibility of violent attack. It is one of Britain’s most iconic buildings, a magnet for tourists and backdrop for countless television news reports.
Around the world, the neo-Gothic building capped by the four-sided Big Ben clock tower is visual shorthand for Britain and its political system.
That has also made it a longstanding target. In 1605, conspirators led by Guy Fawkes tried to blow up Parliament in the “Gunpowder Plot.
The building was set afire by German bombs during World War II, and in 1979 Conservative lawmaker Airey Neave was killed in a car bombing by Irish militants as he drove out of the Commons parking lot.
The biggest recent security breach came in 2004, when fathers’ rights protesters threw purple powder over Tony Blair from the Commons public gallery. Campbell recalled that lawmakers bolted from the chamber, thinking “it was anthrax or something similar.”
Over the years, security has grown tighter further. Visitors to Parliament now undergo airport-style screening with metal detectors and X-Ray scanners.
May told lawmakers that, although a policeman died Wednesday, Parliament’s security had held.
“An attacker attempted to break into Parliament and was shot dead within 20 yards of the gates,” she said.
Labour lawmaker Harriet Harman agreed that the attack had failed.
“It has failed because we are here,” she said. “And we are going to go about our business.”
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Jill Lawless, The Associated Press