- London police appeal for footage as they aid investigation
- Brexit campaigners say attacks strengthen case for leaving EU
The U.K. government advised against traveling to Brussels unless absolutely necessary in the aftermath of terrorist attacks in the Belgian capital that left at least 31 people dead.
The advice, issued by the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and rare for the capital of another European country, came after bombings at Brussels airport and a subway station on Tuesday morning. Security has been stepped up at British ports, stations and airports, and officials met in the afternoon to discuss possible further action.
“We are advising against all but essential travel to Brussels,” Prime Minister David Cameron’s spokeswoman, Helen Bower, told reporters in London. “It’s reflecting the fact that the Belgian authorities are advising the Belgian public not to travel to Brussels at the moment. We think it’s helpful and right that we reflect that in the FCO advice.”
Cameron conducted a meeting of his government’s so-called Cobra emergency committee on Tuesday morning and London’s Metropolitan Police is sending officers to Belgium after offering to help in the investigation, Bower said. The force appealed for members of the public with images or footage of the attack to share them with detectives via the website www.ukpoliceimageappeal.co.uk.
The Belgian flag flew over Cameron’s office at 10 Downing Street, while British flags on government buildings were lowered to half-staff as a symbol of respect.
At least one Briton was injured in the attack on Brussels Airport, Bower told reporters.
Cameron earlier verbally attacked the U.K. Independence Party for seeking to use the attacks in Brussels to make the case for Britain to leave the European Union. It should be a day of “sympathy” with the people of Belgium rather than political point-scoring by those seeking withdrawal from the EU, he said.
UKIP’s defense spokesman, Mike Hookem, issued a statement saying the “horrific act of terrorism” showed that EU free-movement rules and “lax border controls” are “a threat to our security.” Britain votes on June 23 on whether to leave the EU.
“It’s not appropriate at this time to make any of those sorts of remarks,” Cameron told reporters in televised comments from his Downing Street office in London. “Today is a day for sympathy and condolence, for enhancing our own security.”
Cameron has used the collective security provided by membership of the EU as a key plank of his campaign to stay in the 28-nation bloc, prompting Hookem’s comments and criticism from other opponents after Tuesday’s attacks.
“Brussels, de facto capital of the EU, is also the jihadist capital of Europe,” Daily Telegraph newspaper columnist Allison Pearson said on her Twitter feed. “And the Remainers dare to say we’re safer in the EU!” She followed this with the hashtag #Brexit. UKIP leader Nigel Farage retweeted Pearson’s comment.
Chris Bryant, a senior lawmaker from the opposition Labour Party, responded that Pearson’s post was “truly vile,” while the Scottish National Party’s Stewart McDonald tweeted that “it’s an especially empty and small-minded person who makes politics out of this.”