Grenfell, Brexit, EU: Keep Calm and Carry On?
This week has continued to be clouded by the ashen clouds of Grenfell Tower, the news that at least eleven tower high rises across England are fitted with the same combustible cladding as the one used at Grenfell Tower, and yesterday’s “fair and serious offer” by Theresa May. The proposal has left European citizens “panicked” and EU leaders saying that it was a “good start,” but “not sufficient.” European Council President Donald Tusk said that the proposal was “below our expectations.”
With Brexit, terrorism, and tragic events happening in the UK, it is difficult not to feel anger and frustration with the way things are. The ubiquitous message “Keep Calm and Carry On,” appears now out of place and time. Once a reminder of Britain’s heroic resilience in the face of the Third Reich’s terror, is now indicative of a false nostalgia, that is inviting us to enjoy our life no matter how difficult it might be, or even indulge in a hedonistic lifestyle that supports the existing state of affairs. In the face of crisis and horror, it is impossible to keep calm and carry on. With a whole year having passed since the fateful day that British people voted to leave the EU by 52% to 48%, many people still feel “regret and frustration.”
We mentioned in an earlier article last week, how Grenfell Tower was a symbol of the end of an era, and the Guardian’s Owen Jones added yesterday that Grenfell Tower “sums up the collapse of our neoliberal era.” Today, the Financial Times’ economic writer Tim Harford, wrote that “the ash-blackened cage” isn’t metaphorical at all and rather “a distinctly un-metaphorical national disgrace.” Symbolic and real, the disaster now begs for a housing reform and creative solutions—some offered by Corbyn’s answer to “occupy, compulsory purchase it, requisition it, there’s a lot of things you can do”—but also for rethinking the ideological failings of those seeking now to make amends. The tragedy, nonetheless, has brought communities together and are now demanding that their interests are considered and that political figures and institutions need to engage with them. Keeping calm and carrying might have been a hopeful slogan in the past, but its monotonous commercial bombast can no longer express Britain’s current state of mind.
Councils have been taking emergency measures to avoid other disasters such as the one at Grenfell Tower, by removing cladding from other blocks after concerns about the buildings’ safety.
Buildings in Portsmouth and north London had their cladding removed today. Islington council will remove cladding from Braithwaite House. Premier Inn also reported that three of its buildings in Maidenhead, Brentford and Tottenham were investigated, but were considered safe, despite concerns that the cladding used, does not adhere to governmental guidelines.
The government confirmed that 11 buildings in eight local authorities had used ACM cladding, similar to the one used at Grenfell Tower. In total, 600 towers are cladded with possibly flammable material, according to the Department for Communities and Local Government. Fire crews continue to visit properties that might have used ACM cladding to make sure they are safe.
Theresa May promised to offer a “settled status” to EU citizens after the UK’s exit on 30 March 2019 so they acquire the same rights to welfare, pensions and education as other UK citizens. The plans involve EU citizens who have been in Britain for five years, a two-year “grace period,” for people moving to the UK after Brexit and other details which will be made clear on Monday. For example, EU citizens in the UK, and those who arrive during the “grace period” of up to two years, will be able to build their five years of residence and gain “settled status.”
Keir Starmer, the shadow secretary of state for exiting the EU said: “We believe there must be a clear commitment that there will be no change to the status of EU nationals in the UK. This is not only the right thing to do, but it will also help deliver a reciprocal agreement for the 1.2 million UK nationals living in the EU.”
The founding member of “the3million”—a grassroot organisation for the EU citizens living in the UK, Anne-Laure Donskoy said that May’s proposition was “disappointing,” “neither fair, nor really serious. It is like a teaser this statement, it gives you general direction of travel potentially, but there are things in the statement that need to be unpicked."
Jeremy Corbyn condemned the uncertainty surrounding the issue of EU citizens, saying that those who have been in the UK for a shorter period of time feel uncertainty: "These are people who are working here and have families here - we have to end their uncertainty."
At the moment, it isn’t clear what the final date for qualifying for May’s offer is and generally, the proposal is considered vague. There are more questions than answers. Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern said: "It is a first good step which we appreciate. Many details are left open. A lot of European citizens are concerned and not covered by May's proposal.”
The European Union wants all UK-based EU citizens to retain their full rights under the European Court of Justice, but the UK demands that UK courts have the authority on the matter.
In general, after a year since the Brexit vote, things aren’t looking very optimistic. Brexit seems now for many a bad decision during a drinking bout. The newspaper, Süddeutsche Zeitung reported that “The Brits do not have a single negotiator of stature in their ranks. If it weren’t so serious, the situation in Great Britain would almost be comical.”
From the outside, the Brits also appear confused. “The Brits don’t know what they want,” a Swiss newspaper said today. But, for those who do, Brexit is starting to look more like a compromise, and less like an opportunity. As Donald Tusk said months ago, “There will be no cakes for anyone, only salt and vinegar.” Now is no time for keeping calm and carrying on.