‘Sombre national mood’: Queen honours London fire victims as anger mounts against PM May

Scarred by three deadly Islamist militant attacks and a tower block fire that killed dozens in London, Britain is also grappling with a political crisis that has left Prime Minister Theresa May weakened on the eve of Brexit talks

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 17 June, 2017, 7:18pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 17 June, 2017, 11:07pm

Queen Elizabeth II declared a “sombre national mood” after the deadly apartment tower fire in West London killed at least 30 people as doubts mount about Prime Minister Theresa May’s handling of the crisis.

For two days, May’s government has struggled to respond to the fire at Grenfell Tower, opened four decades ago as state-subsidised housing. She met survivors privately on Friday and promised measures including 5 million pounds ($6.4 million) for emergency costs, and new homes nearby within three weeks. They’ll also be consulted on the public inquiry into the disaster announced earlier. But demonstrators shouted “coward” at the premier, accusing her of dodging an earlier meeting with victims.

The queen marked her official birthday Saturday by saying Britain remains “resolute in the face of adversity” after the horrendous fire and recent extremist attacks in London and Manchester.

The 91-year-old monarch said it is “difficult to escape a very sombre mood” on what is normally a day of celebration.

The queen said that during recent visits to meet victims she had been struck by the inclination of people to offer comfort and support to those in need.

“Put to the test, the United Kingdom has been resolute in the face of adversity,” she said.

“United in our sadness, we are equally determined, without fear or favour, to support all those rebuilding lives so horribly affected by injury and loss.”

The queen and her husband, Prince Philip, stood silently on the steps of Buckingham Palace before the start of the Trooping the Colour that each year marks the queen’s official birthday, which is traditionally celebrated in June when the weather is warm.

After visiting Manchester and London after attacks or disasters, she said: “I have been profoundly struck by the immediate inclination of people throughout the country to offer comfort and support for those in desperate need.”

Around 70 people are missing, according to Britain’s Press Association, and identification of the victims is proving very difficult. British health authorities say that 19 patients are still being treated at four London hospitals. Of those, 10 remain in critical condition.

Protesters in London accused authorities of suppressing the true death toll, an idea that has spread on social media. Although the police and fire service expect the number to rise significantly, they are following their usual procedure of only raising it as they confirm deaths. Metropolitan Police Commander Stuart Cundy said Thursday of the toll: “I’d like to hope that it isn’t going to be triple figures.”

There were also indications that political groups had joined protests that spread beyond those immediately affected by the fire. Hundreds of people marched from Kensington town hall toward the gutted tower on Friday evening, some brandishing Socialist Worker Party placards emblazoned with slogans including “Defy Tory Rule” and “no justice, no peace.”

Demonstrators also marched outside Parliament chanting, “May must go.”

They made their way to Downing Street, May’s official residence, where they met a large police presence. They then moved up to Trafalgar Square, and mingled with tourists and office workers drinking in the sunshine outside pubs. Most of the crowds later dispersed, but there were calls for more marches next week.

Asked repeatedly whether she had misread the public mood, May did not answer directly but said the focus was on providing support to the victims.

“What I’m now absolutely focused on is ensuring that we get that support on the ground,” May said in a BBC Newsnight interview.

“Government is making money available, we’re ensuring that we’re going to get to the bottom of what’s happened, we will ensure that people are rehoused. But we need to make sure that that actually happens.”

After a tumultuous week that pitched Britain into its deepest political crisis since the Brexit referendum a year ago, May’s future was already uncertain due to her failed gamble on a snap election.

Britain is now likely to go into arduous talks on Monday about its exit from the European Union with a weakened leader who is dependent on a small Northern Irish party.

Bloomberg, Associated Press, Reuters