May announces Grenfell victims support package as she faces test of leadership

Prime Minister Theresa May
Prime Minister Theresa May
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Theresa May is under increasing pressure to shore up her fragile premiership, as DUP talks threaten to roll into a second week and communities continue to vent their outrage at the government’s response to the Grenfell Towers tragedy.

The following days could prove crucial to the Prime Minister’s future in Number 10, with Brexit talks expected to get underway on Monday and all eyes on Westminster for the postponed Queen’s Speech on Wednesday.

Downing Street sources have spoken of their “confidence” in getting the support they need to pass the speech – with or without a formal agreement from the DUP – while asserting that the government’s plans for Brexit remain unchanged despite last week’s embarrassing election result.

But with question marks hanging over the Prime Minister’s mandate for a “hard” Brexit, and mounting criticism from within her own party at the government’s response to the Grenfell incident, her leadership is being seen as increasingly unstable.

Details of the tragic events surrounding the towerblock fire continued to emerge today, as did the anger and grief of the affected communities.

During a visit to the site on Friday morning, the leader of the Commons Andrea Leadsom was heckled by passers-by demanding to know why Mrs May had not met with survivors and their families on her visit the previous day.

The frustration was not limited to residents, with Tory MPs warning of the “exceptional damage” that had been dealt to the party by Downing Street’s poor handling of the incident.

Tory grandee and former cabinet minister Michael Portillo was among those to attack the Prime Minister for failing to “use her humanity”.

Mrs May attempted to silence her critics yesterday by visiting survivors of the blaze at London’s Chelsea and Westminster Hospital yesterday afternoon.

She then went on to chair a meeting of the Civil Contingencies Committee, before announcing the details of a £5 million support package for affected residents.

However, Labour shadow fronbencher Jon Trickett claimed the initial response to the fire highlighted the Tory leader’s increasing isolation “from the people she wants to represent”.

He told the Yorkshire Post: “Any moral authority a person needs to govern is draining away from her – and the country knows it.”

The fall-out from Grenfell comes as Mrs May finds herself with a shrinking circle of allies following the loss of her closest advisors.

It is also set against a backdrop of ongoing negotiations with Norther Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) over a proposed confidence and supply arrangement with the government.

The two parties have been in discussions since the beginning of the week, and despite reports that they have now reached an agreement on “95 percent” of conditions, senior Tory sources have indicated they may not finalise a deal before Wednesday’s Queen’s Speech.

Potential areas of disagreement include Tory plans to ditch the pensions triple lock and introduce means testing for winter fuel allowance – both of which the DUP has committed to opposing as part of its “anti-austerity” agenda.

Both parties claim they are committed to “delivering Brexit” and finding a solution to the prospect of a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

However, there is growing uncertainty over what form this Brexit will take, and whether European leaders will accept Mrs May’s mandate to take Britain out of the single market and customs union – a so-called Hard exit – given the decrease in the Tory majority on June 9.

The Department for Exiting the EU has reiterated its intention to press ahead with negotiations as planned, issuing a statement on Friday which appeared to dismiss reports that UK officials have caved to demands to agree a divorce settlement with Brussels before discussing a new deal.

But Philip Hammond added fuel to the rumour that he is pushing Mrs May to pursue a “softer” Brexit when he stressed the need to “prioritise... jobs [and] economic growth” ahead of a meeting with EU leaders on Friday.

Details of the package include:

The package includes:

- A commitment that victims who lost their homes in the disaster must be rehoused at the earliest possible opportunity and we should aim to do this within 3 weeks at the latest.

- A guarantee to rehouse people as close as practically possible to where they previously lived - meaning they can continue to access the same public services such as their local school or local GP. This rehousing would be in the same borough and, if not, a neighbouring borough.

Until people are rehoused, the cost of temporary accommodation will be met on their behalf.

- The Government will also provide any necessary financial assistance to families who have been rehoused so children and their parents do not incur any extra costs in travelling to their local school.

- The new £5 million Grenfell Tower Residents’ Discretionary Fund, made immediately available and given to the local authority to distribute. This could be used to cover loss of possessions, funerals and emergency supplies.

- Confirmation the Treasury will work with banks to ensure that those affected by the disaster who lost possessions like bank cards still have access to their accounts.

- The Department for Work & Pensions are working with local job centres to ensure that those affected have access to the benefits and pensions they would normally receive.