Housing Minister Alok Sharma has been slammed for failing to answer “simple” questions around the Grenfell Tower fire in a heated, car-crash television interview that lasted 15 minutes.
Appearing on Good Morning Britain on Monday, Sharma immediately irked host Piers Morgan by delivering a long-winded reply to his very first question, that in no way answered it.
Sharma was asked how many people had died in the June 14 disaster, which has been a point of contention since the outset.
Police have confirmed 79 bodies have been recovered, but the death toll is believed to be much higher and residents, along with Labour MP David Lammy, have expressed frustrations at the speed in which authorities have released details amid “cover up” claims.
In an almost one-minute long reply, Sharma said:
“I attended a community engagement meeting last week where I heard directly from those who have been directly affected by this dreadful tragedy and I have to say I was absolutely moved to tears by the individual stories that were relayed to me and I have nothing but admiration for the dignity the people have shown in this adversity.
“As for us, we want to make sure that something like this never happens again and we will leave no stone unturned in making sure that this is the case. And I have to tell you that whatever we do, everything that I personally do, the voices of those people that I spoke to will be utmost in my mind as we move forward to something like this never happening again. It should never have happened in the first place and it will we will make sure it never happens again.”
A frustrated Morgan attempted to get Sharma back on track by repeating “the question I actually asked you”.
This time Sharma was more succinct, echoing the police line that 79 bodies had been recovered but that “number may well rise”.
When pushed on suggestions that the death toll could be “hundreds” Sharma called for people with knowledge about who was in the building on the night of the blaze to help authorities “build a picture” of occupancy when the tragedy struck.
The conversation then moved to the cladding which is believed to have helped spread the fire across Grenfell Tower’s 24 floors and has led to a nationwide scandal that has so far seen 60 high-rise towers failing cladding safety checks.
The interview soured further when Sharma was quizzed on whether the cladding used on the tower was legal or not. Initially, he replied: “Well what we are doing, of course Piers, is making sure we check cladding in high rise building across the country...”
An exasperated Morgan repeated the question, telling Sharma “you keep answering different questions”, before adding, “you’ve had two weeks now to work this out”.
Sharma replied: “From what we have seen it would suggest that the material that was used was combustile [combustible] but at the end of the day this is a matter for the investigation.”
When pushed further about whether the cladding was illegal, Sharma told Morgan that was a “matter for the police inquiry” but added that the Government had been clear on what types of cladding were not compliant with building regulations.
Morgan argued Sharma could not give a straight answer, to which the Housing Minister replied, “If I could just say to you at the end of the day neither you nor I are experts when it comes to these matters”.
Morgan snapped at Sharma, “You are the Housing Minister, you should know.... it is literally your job to know.”
Sharma: “I am not an expert on fire safety Piers.”
Those watching the exchange at home, shared Morgan’s frustrations and those of other journalists who had interviewed the minister on Monday.
Questions later concerned building regulations, but Sharma’s replies left Morgan and co-host Susanna Reid, equally frustrated.
During the interview Sharma condemned comments made by Labour’s Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, that the Grenfell Tower deaths amounted to “murder”.
Sharma said he was “disappointed” by the comments made during Glastonbury Festival, adding that “I don’t think that’s what the public wants”.
Labour’s shadow housing secretary John Healey on Monday distanced himself from McDonnell’s remarks, telling BBC Radio 4′s Today programme: “I wouldn’t use the word ‘murder’,” he said. “It’s not yet possible to point to direct cause and effect. We don’t know the full details.”