Jacob Rees-Mogg has “profoundly” apologised for suggesting Grenfell victims should have used “common sense” and ignored fire service guidance not to leave the burning tower block.
The Commons leader faced widespread criticism, including from Grenfell survivors and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, after he said people are safer if they “just ignore what you’re told and leave”, while discussing London Fire Brigade’s (LFB) “stay-put” policy.
Mr Rees-Mogg said on LBC on Monday: “I think if either of us were in a fire, whatever the fire brigade said, we would leave the burning building.
“It just seems the common sense thing to do, and it is such a tragedy that that didn’t happen.”
Grenfell United, which represents survivors and the bereaved, had said his words were “beyond disrespectful” and “extremely painful and insulting to bereaved families”.
The Leader of the House of Commons suggesting that the 72 people who lost their lives at Grenfell lacked common sense is beyond disrespectful. It is extremely painful and insulting to bereaved families.— Grenfell United (@GrenfellUnited) November 5, 2019
On Tuesday, Number 10 was forced to say that the Prime Minister still had confidence in Mr Rees-Mogg, after he said: “I profoundly apologise. What I meant to say is that I would have also listened to the fire brigade’s advice to stay and wait at the time.
“However, with what we know now and with hindsight I wouldn’t, and I don’t think anyone else would.
“I would hate to upset the people of Grenfell if I was unclear in my comments.”
Reacting to Mr Rees-Mogg’s apology, the Fire Brigades Union said that Grenfell residents had been in a “terrifying, impossible” situation, and added: “It was […] callously irresponsible for a senior government figure to suggest that the public should ignore firefighters when they are in a fire.”
Jeremy Corbyn had called on Mr Rees-Mogg to say sorry for the “crass” and “insensitive” comments, asking: “What possesses someone to react to an entirely avoidable tragedy like Grenfell by saying the victims lacked common sense?”
What possesses someone to react to an entirely avoidable tragedy like Grenfell by saying the victims lacked common sense? People were terrified, many died trying to escape. Jacob Rees Mogg must apologise for these crass and insensitive comments immediately.https://t.co/QczW5iyxkR— Jeremy Corbyn (@jeremycorbyn) November 5, 2019
Rapper and singer Stormzy also called the politician “an actual piece of shit” and demanded his resignation.
It is not the first time Mr Rees-Mogg has had to apologise for his comments.
In September he said sorry after comparing a consultant who helped draw up no-deal medical plans with the disgraced anti-vaxxer Andrew Wakefield.
Speaking in the House of Commons, the MP had said that the doctor concerned, David Nicholl, was being irresponsible by warning about the possible effects of a no-deal Brexit on medicine supplies.
Mr Rees-Mogg’s apology came on the same day the head of the London Fire Brigade (LFB) said that “knowing what we know now”, the service would respond differently to a Grenfell-like fire.
The inquiry report into the 2017 blaze which killed 72 people said a decision on evacuation “could and should have been made between 1.30am and 1.50am and would be likely to have resulted in fewer fatalities”.
LFB commissioner Dany Cotton said at the London Assembly fire, resilience and emergency planning committee: “Clearly, knowing what we know now about Grenfell Tower and similar buildings with ACM cladding, our response would be very different.”
When asked how the service had changed its approaches, she added: “Not only have we increased our attendance if we receive a call to a high-rise fire, we increase the number of fire engines we send.
“If there are multiple calls to the same building and the callers state the outside of the building is on fire we send an initial attendance of ten fire engines, plus officers, plus specialist appliances.”