Even though the search for a successor is in full swing, Theresa May is still the governing Prime Minister and was therefore taking questions in the House of Commons during Prime Minister’s Question Time on Wednesday, June 19th. The event gets broadcast live by the BBC.
Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) are a convention in the UK in which the Prime Minister spends about half an hour once a week answering questions from members of parliament. During this particular session on Wednesday, Opposition Leader Jeremy Corbyn focused on the Grenfell tragedy and asked why over 300 high-rise buildings were still reported to have Grenfell-style cladding.
The Grenfell disaster saw Grenfell Tower in west London go up in flames on June 14th, 2017. 72 people died and hundreds more were injured and lost their homes and livelihoods in an event that later led to an investigation that showed materials that were unfit for purpose were used in many of Britain’s high-rise buildings.
Corbyn argued, “You can’t keep people safe on the cheap” and criticised the government for cuts to fire service funding and its reaction to the tragedy.
May and everyone in the session were repeatedly reminded that her days in office are coming to an end and that the contest for her successor is well underway.
Not that May needed the reminder. The official statement she made on May 24th when she announced her resignation made it clear that the decision to resign had not been an easy one. More likely it was the last choice after she failed to unite parliament behind her withdrawal agreement.
The presence during the PMQS of two of the five candidates running for prime minister put the contest sharply in focus. Both were highly visible in the front rows, just seats away from May. Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt could be seen just behind her, while Rory Stewart sat further down the bench to her side.
One of the questions was also directed at the person who may well become the next prime minister of the UK, current frontrunner Boris Johnson. Scottish National Party MP Ian Blackford called Johnson “racist” and was then asked by Speaker John Bercow to withdraw his allegations. Blackford replied by quoting comments Johnson had made in the past and saying, "If that's not racist, Mr Speaker, I don't know what is."
Another question referred back to an issue from earlier in May’s career. Scottish National Party MP Deidre Brock asked, “At the end of her career, will the prime minister apologise?” Brock was referring to immigration policies which created a “hostile environment" and led to the Windrush scandal. The Windrush scandal saw people getting wrongfully detained and even deported. "Will she apologise?" Brock repeated.
May noted that the country will mark Windrush Day this week, on Saturday, June 22nd. She said that what lay “behind the issue to the problems some members of the Windrush generation have faced was they were not given documentary evidence of their status when they arrived." This was a circumstance which was no longer an issue, May said and advised those with problems to contact the Home Office.