Is a hard Brexit now less likely?

Grenfell Tower Tragedy

Today, Brexit issues are not making the front pages.  Instead, the newspapers and the broadcasters are concerned with something much more serious.

Grenfell Tower was a 27 story building in North Kensington comprising 120 flats with a total number of inhabitants estimated at between 400 and 600 people and managed by the Kensington & Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation on behalf of the local authority.  It had recently been refurbished.  It caught fire and it is feared that there have been many casualties.

towerThe Torygraph Telegraph has this: “‘How the hell could it happen?’: how newspapers reacted to Grenfell Tower tragedy” with a selection of photographs of the front pages of other newspapers.  The Guardian has this: “‘Disaster waiting to happen’: fire expert slams UK tower blocks – Architect Sam Webb says breaches of fire safety standards in UK are common and lessons from Lakanal House have not been learned

  • “A disaster waiting to happen,” is how the architect and fire expert Sam Webb describes hundreds of tower blocks across the UK, after the fire at Grenfell Tower in Kensington that has left at least six people dead. “We are still wrapping postwar high-rise buildings in highly flammable materials and leaving them without sprinkler systems installed, then being surprised when they burn down.”
  • Webb surveyed hundreds of residential tower blocks across the country in the early 1990s and presented a damning report to the Home Office, which revealed that more than half of the buildings didn’t meet basic fire safety standards. He said: “We discovered a widespread breach of safety, but we were simply told nothing could be done because it would ‘make too many people homeless’.

All the Home Secretaries from 1990 to 1997 were Conservatives.  No doubt the present successor of  Sir Humphrey Appleby at the Home Office will be hard at work preparing a brief for Home Office ministers seeking to explain why the Home Office cannot be blamed for the tragedy.  That might be quite difficult.

The Sun has this: “Theresa May orders emergency meeting to co-ordinate response to the Grenfell Tower block fire as questions mount over former Housing Minister’s delays to fire safety report“.

  • Mr Barwell (now Mrs May’s Chief of Staff) was the minister responsible for a review into fire safety in high rise buildings and told MPs in October that the government had “committed ourselves” to one. 
  • But nothing had been produced by the time Theresa May called a snap election in April. The review had already been on hold for a number of years.

The Daily Mail has this: “Fears for other towers dressed in ‘curtain walling’: Cladding company has covered six other ageing blocks in panels ‘that went up like a matchstick’ in London ALONE

  • Doomed Grenfell Tower was equipped with cladding by East Sussex-based company Harley Facades in 2016
  • It has since come to light that the firm used a similar aluminium composite material to clad several high rises
  • Four 23-storey tower blocks in Camden and a 23-storey block with 115 flats in Newham refurbished by the firm.

Until the Fire Brigade has made a complete search of the Grenfell Tower site which may take several days, the potential death toll remains uncertain.  But the Brigade has stated that it does not expect to find anyone still alive.

This is an event which is going to impact on local government in Kensington & Chelsea, but also on the national government’.

Inquests, prosecutions, civil litigation will follow this disaster as night follows day.   The Borough, the Managing Entity, the architects and the companies involved in the cladding of the tower are no doubt lining up their defence teams.

The Evening Standard has this: “Lawyers rally to offer free help to Grenfell Tower residents with compensation claims

ww-westminsterIt also looks as if the workings of the Home Office in relation to fire safety standards for tower blocks are going to be under close examination and, of course,  the Wicked Witch was previously Home Secretary.

The Independent has this: “Grenfell Tower fire is ‘corporate manslaughter’ and arrests must be made, MP David Lammy says – ‘We should call it what it is, it’s corporate manslaughter, that’s what it is and there should be arrests made, frankly,’ the Tottenham MP said“.

However, the Independent now also has this: “Grenfell Tower fire: Police open criminal investigation into blaze that killed 17 as fears grow death toll could reach 100 – Search for the victims could take ‘months’“.

The Evening Standard reports: Theresa May announces full public inquiry into Grenfell Tower tragedy“.

  • Theresa May today announced a judge-led public inquiry into the Grenfell Tower fire tragedy.
  • Anger grew today over the fire safety failures, with the Government itself facing questions over why measures proposed following a fire in Camberwell, south London, in 2009 where not fully implemented.

All too often a public enquiry is ordered by a government to kick an inconvenient or embarrassing issue into the long grass.  However, it does not seem that the tactic will necessarily work in this case.

Hard or Soft Brexit

The Independent has this: “David Cameron and Ken Clarke join Tory heavyweights urging Theresa May to abandon hard Brexit stance – Interventions come as Chancellor Philip Hammond is believed to be pushing to keep Britain inside the EU’s customs union“.

Also this: “Theresa May is now almost as unpopular as pre-campaign Jeremy Corbyn, finds YouGov poll – In the space of a week, Theresa May has become almost as unpopular as Jeremy Corbyn once was

Yesterday the Evening Standard had this: “Deal for soft Brexit moves closer amid cross-party support“.

The May government has just announced to the Press Association, that the State Opening of Parliament and Queen’s Speech will be on Wednesday, June 21st.  That suggests that Teresa May is fairly confident of a deal with the DUP Ulster Unionists.  However, there may be a problem:  If the DUP is asking for more central government funding in Ulster, that may have Barnett Formula consequences for other devolved administrations.

The Sun has this: “Chancellor and other top Tories urge Theresa May to put jobs before immigration in talks – Chancellor Philip Hammond joined forces with Home Secretary Amber Rudd to demand the weakened PM prioritise jobs over tough immigration control“.   The article asserts that the Chancellor will say as much in his forthcoming Mansion House speech (However, since that article, Mr Hammond has signalled that he will not be at the Mansion House – and the event has been cancelled).

The Mail, however, has this: “Ministers ‘will quit’ if Brexit is watered down: Top Tories warn May not to give in to Hammond on softer deal“:-

timesbrexitclownsA senior Tory source said at least three Cabinet ministers were prepared to quit if the Prime Minister bowed to the demands of her Chancellor. International Trade Secretary Liam Fox has told friends his job would be pointless if the UK stayed inside the customs union.

It probably did not occur to the scribblers at the Daily Mail that the resignation of Messrs Davis, Johnson and Fox might be the best thing they could do for the country.

Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori 

The Spectator has this by Hugo Rifkind: “The Tories’ real problem is that they are now seen as reckless gamblers – The Conservatives went into this election bereft of their usual USP. They were not a safe pair of hands“.

  • The Conservatives were not conservative. They were not a safe pair of hands. That normal vibe the Tories exude of ‘you don’t need to love us, but at least we can hold stuff together’ was missing the entire last part. They were not, in a nutshell, a safe and lazy vote for the risk-averse. Nobody was. And thus, in an election with only mad, risky shit on offer, there was simply no particular reason for the electorate to choose the particular mad, risky shit that was wearing a blue rosette.
  • To grasp this, you do not need to believe that Brexit will inevitably be a disaster. Even I don’t believe that Brexit will inevitably be a disaster. (Only probably.) You simply need to accept that there’s a risk it might be….Like independence for Scotland, it seemed to me to be a major, apocalyptic act of political irresponsibility. Worse than that, an act of political callousness — a risky gamble made by people who can afford to lose, but with the costs to be borne by people who cannot.

The Evening Standard has this:  “Brexit poll: Britons call on Theresa May to change course on EU after election defeat

The Independent has this: “This is Theresa May’s chance to rescue social justice and a softer Brexit from the election wreckage – The election was, in part, an instruction to strike a different balance in talks with Brussels “.

We can only wait and see.



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