Prime Minister Theresa May ordered an investigation into a fire at a tower block in west London that killed at least 17 people in what is being declared a “national tragedy,” with opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn describing people as “very angry.”
“When I visited the scene, when I spoke to the emergency services, they told me that the way this fire progressed, how it took hold of this building, was rapid, it was ferocious and it was unexpected,” May said in a pooled TV interview.
With the death toll expected to keep rising, politics have been put on hold as the government confronts a national tragedy that has raised questions about the cause of the blaze and the role of austerity. Talks over Britain’s departure from the European Union are meant to start next week and May has yet to formally close a deal to form a minority government.
Fire Minister Nick Hurd co-chaired a meeting in Parliament with lawmakers who spoke out about their frustration about the role cost cuts played in the accident. Corbyn, who also visited North Kensington, said “some hard questions have got to be answered” and that “it cannot be right that a fire like this takes so many lives in the 21st century in Britain.”
Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond canceled a keynote speech on the economy as a result of the blaze and the entire Mansion House dinner was scrapped. Hammond was scheduled to make the case for a Brexit that focuses on protecting jobs and economic growth to an audience of bankers.
The fire cast aside May’s talks with Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party to secure the votes of its 10 House of Commons lawmakers to back her program after last week’s inconclusive election left her short of a working majority in Parliament.
Mayor of Sadiq Khan had earlier demanded a public inquiry into the blaze, which appears to have spread along cladding added to the outside of the building when it was refurbished.
“Seventeen people are now known to have died in the terrible fire at Grenfell Tower. Sadly this figure is likely to rise,” Khan said in an emailed statement. “There are pressing questions, which demand urgent answers,” he said. “In light of concerns about the safety of other tower blocks that have been similarly refurbished the inquiry needs to produce an interim report by the end of this summer at the latest.”
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