Grenfell, Windrush & Skripal: Theresa May’s Tainted Legacy

The next UK prime minister inherits a divided nation, a reduced standing in the world and one of the worst periods in British-Russian relations, writes Johanna Ross.

May in 2017. (Air Force/Jette Carr)

By Johanna Ross

UK Prime Minister Theresa May’s political career officially ended in tears last Friday, as the woman who declared that she would provide “strong and stable” leadership when she came to power three years ago, but who proved in the end to be not quite so strong or stable as she broke down in front of the press outside 10 Downing Street.

She had in fact, arguably one of the most disastrous records of a UK prime minister to date. A total of 50 cabinet resignations since she took office, far more than any of her recent predecessors; together with scandals such as the Grenfell Tower disaster, Windrush scandal, hostile environment policy and record levels of homelessness and poverty.  And that’s not to mention her inability to deliver Brexit, which effectively led to her demise.

Indeed however tempting it may be to feel sorry for May — she has been surrounded by political vultures all vying for her position for months now — one is minded of the words of British political commentator Owen Jones who, when asked recently if he felt sorry for the prime minister, noted that May’s tears were simply those of self-pity and were absent at times when they would have been appropriate, such as in the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire, which claimed 72 lives.

‘Permanent Crisis’

One may be inclined to think that if she was so unsuccessful on the domestic front, then perhaps in the area of foreign policy May could have had a better record. No such luck. We only have to look at the considerable deterioration in relations with Russia to understand that under her leadership, Britain’s standing in the world has diminished. Prominent British journalist Patrick Cockburn has even gone as far to say that Britain is now “entering a period of permanent crisis not seen since the 17th century.”

Grenfell Tower burning. (Natalie Oxford, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

But arguably back in the 17th century the U.K. was more competent in the art of diplomacy than it is now.  May’s defense minister, Gavin Williamson, with his comment that Russia should “go away and shut up” epitomized the extraordinary lack of finesse and savoir-faire the May government had when dealing with Russia. 

His bellicose tone unfortunately went hand-in-hand with a completely misplaced notion of Russia presenting to the UK some kind of genuine threat, as he argued earlier this year that the UK had to “enhance its lethality” against such well-resourced states, as opposed to concentrating its energies on Islamic terror groups. He was then accused by fellow politicians of “sabre-rattling” in what were widely seen as misguided and provocative statements.

However, Williamson was not alone in his anti-Russian stance. It was under May’s leadership that the controversial government-funded Integrity Initiative program really began to flourish. Designed to “counteract Russian propaganda” it instead deceptively engaged in spreading disinformation about Russia and even the UK Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, by hiring journalists, academics and commentators who would all sing from the same hymn sheet when it came to discourse about Russia in the press.

What was most chilling about the revelations in the Integrity Initiative hacked documents was the extent to which policy makers within the inner workings of the establishment are apparently obsessed about an imminent “Russian threat” and are prepared to go to considerable lengths to persuade the British population of this.

May with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Hangzhou, China, 2016. (Wikimedia Commons)

Uncanny Timing

Even more unnerving was the discussion that there was need for some event to be staged in order to heighten the U.K. population’s awareness of a Russian threat. The timing was uncanny: this was not long before the poisoning took place of ex-double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter, which has, along with multiple discrepancies in the British narrative, led some analysts to ask whether the whole incident was indeed orchestrated by British secret services. 

Staged or not, May’s handling of the Skripal incident left much to be desired. Even her experience of handling the Litvinenko affair as home secretary hadn’t taught her a great deal. Before any concrete evidence was produced to implicate the Russian government in the poisoning, May was already issuing ultimatums to the Russian president. Her infamous phrase that the government concluded it was “highly likely” Russia was responsible for the poisoning even entered itself into the Russian vocabulary and became something of a household joke in Russia.

The decision to publicly accuse another state of attempting murder on British soil with evidence that only amounted to “a nerve agent of a type produced by Russia,” was utterly reckless, not only deeply harming relations with Russia, but undermining the credibility of the U.K. as a whole. And despite it being an attempt to bolster the PM’s position at a time when desperately needed to generate support for her upcoming Brexit white paper – this itself, given a delayed Brexit and divided country, proved fruitless.

So what can we expect from the next prime minister of the not-so-Great Britain? Whoever it is has their work cut out not only to unite the Conservative party, but the country. In terms of improving relations with Russia — as long as the Tories remain in power, and the “deep state” or civil service continues to push its aggressive anti-Russian agenda —, we are unlikely to see any significant change in policy.

One could hope that a certain Boris Johnson, himself named after a Russian émigré, and the leading candidate to replace May, could seek to build bridges in this regard, but his record on the Skripal case leaves room for doubt. The PM is after all a figurehead, and the UK civil service remains a driving force of policy-making.

As former Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair once said: “You cannot underestimate how much they [the civil service] believe it’s their job to actually run the country and to resist the changes put forward by people they dismiss as ‘here today, gone tomorrow’ politicians. They genuinely see themselves as the true guardians of the national interest, and think that their job is simply to wear you down and wait you out.”  Says it all really.

This article originally appeared on InfoRos.

Johanna Ross is a freelance journalist based in the United Kingdom.

18 comments for “Grenfell, Windrush & Skripal: Theresa May’s Tainted Legacy

  1. June 2, 2019 at 19:39

    Outgoing United Kingdom Prime Minister Theresa May scored a literary marketing masterpiece – by arranging the timing of her retirement to coincide perfectly with the release of her wildly anticipated, expected #1 bestseller: “The Skripals’ Vanishing: My Story – The Greatest Mystery of Our Times.”

    #FreeManning #FreeAssange


  2. Robert Mayer
    June 2, 2019 at 11:47

    Just “IMO” But… GB Vote Count PUBLIC NOT “secret ballot” so… Such “unpopular” (w/ Power Brokers… But right or wrong WILL of VOTING PUBLIC) as BREXIT would Never Pass Thru U$ vote count

  3. June 1, 2019 at 03:41

    Grenfell was specifically caused by YOUR kind of “non-hostile” environmental policies. The tower was wrapped with completely unnecessary cladding to satisfy YOUR environmental laws. The cladding was made of polyisocyanurate, which is ROCKET FUEL. Without the ROCKET FUEL, the fire would have been contained in the one unit where it started.

  4. As one reads this article it is primarily remarkably how closely it resembles America's past, present and future. Of course, England has long been known as Washington's lap dog. Unsurprisingly, what we seem to be best at is sales and PR. The UK
    May 31, 2019 at 15:41

    As one reads this article it is primarily remarkably how closely it resembles America’s past, present and future. Of course, England has long been known as Washington’s lap dog. Unsurprisingly, what we seem to be best at is sales and PR. The UK is far from the only “ally” we have that has followed us off the cliff.

    And as the various publics look down and see the snake pit into which our style of “democracy” and Winners Take All capitalism actually means they want out. Unfortunately, the winners and our leaders have taken all already, including not only the money, but the power. The shameful scams of NATO and politicizing the EU turned out to be new ways to suck the lifeblood out of the earths “Others,” both in our countries and in the “Others” in Africa, Asia, and everything above and below our borders.

    So how do we get out of this? We don’t. Every empire from Cyrus To Babylon, Alexander’s to The Pharaohs’ and Heraclius, the Spanish, Portuguese, and British have collapsed in the dust and led to long periods of darkness, inhabited by The Four Horsemen of The Apocalypse.

    If you look around us, still mostly living in luxury unknown to the ancient non-winners, all of the signs are there. In the multiple-party system in most of “free” Europe or our Two-party system there’s but decline. Boris won’t save England and none of the truly potentially electable quacks in our Democrats list are going to get us out of this. Clinton didn’t, Obama didn’t and what’s up won’t. No one but Tulsi Gabbard even talks about or has a foreign policy beyond being for peace and plenty for all. Sure. Dumb.

    I hate to sound gloomy-doomy, because I’m not. I’m a writer and a writer is an observer. Watching all of this, including my own 2008 economic demise, is fascinating. Gabbard isn’t going to be elected. We’ll get our own Mrs. May maybe, or more Trump, Bolt-on or the fat guy who will initiate some wars that we’ll win like we did with Vietnam and Afghanistan, Iraq, etc. ad nauseum. I’m not saying be dumb; I’m saying be realistic, analytical, interested, and vocal, but come the collapse, be physically and psychologically prepared (everything that Hillary wasn’t, for example.)

  5. Abe
    May 31, 2019 at 12:51

    The UK under May has continued to serve as a “coalition partner” in the US-Saudi-Israeli Axis engineered and perpetuated dirty war against the Syrian government and its Russian and Iranian allies.

    Let’s not forget Theresa May’s well practiced phrase, “like the United States, we believe”:

    May has consistently believed US claims about the April 2017 Khan Shaykhoun incident, the April 2018 Douma incident, and other alleged chemical “attacks” in Syria.

    The UK under May also has remained the base for two leading disinformation operations supporting the the assault against Syrian government: Rami Abdulrahman’s Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and Eliot Higgins’ Bellingcat.

    As of 31 March 2018, the British government had provided £38.4m in funding to the Al Qaeda allied White Helmets propaganda organization. In April 2018 the Trump administration suspended funding of the White Helmets. The US had provided more than $33 million to support the group since 2013.

    The British government remains a primary funder of the White Helmets propaganda organization. Posing as an impartial rescue force, the White Helmets work exclusively side-by-side armed militants including US State Department, UN, and EU designated foreign terrorist organizations. Their primary function is not “rescuing” anyone, but to manage a public relations campaign aimed at swaying public and political opinion, leveraging “humanitarian” sympathy worldwide.

    As of 31 March 2018, the British government had provided £38.4m in funding to the White Helmets. In April 2018 the Trump administration suspended funding of the White Helmets. The US had provided more than $33 million to support the group since 2013.

    In November 2016, video showed two White Helmets members staging a rescue operation for the Mannequin Challenge meme. In May 2017, video showed White Helmets members removing a man’s body following his execution by armed militants in Daraa. In June 2017, a member of the White Helmets was suspended indefinitely for assisting armed militants in the burial of mutilated corpses of Syrian government soldiers.

    On the night of 21 July 2018, Israel allowed 422 people – 98 White Helmet volunteers and their family members – to cross the Israeli annexed Syrian Golan Heights and into Jordan. A Syrian government official condemned the evacuation of White Helmets as a “criminal operation” that had revealed “the terrorist nature” of the group. In September 2018, the UK granted asylum to about 100 White Helmet staff and relatives that had been evacuated to Jordan.

  6. AnneR
    May 31, 2019 at 09:22

    Good Riddance to very Bad Rubbish (mind you that also applies to the whole of the Tory lot plus the Blairites).

    Yes May’s government has much to make amends for – and not just for and to the survivors of Grenfell Towers, the Windrush Generation families, but also to: the Yemenis, the Chagossians, the Syrians. It would have behooved her to have a smaller wardrobe and a larger, effective compassion for those the (imperialist) British have done over numerous times up to and including today. Even small gestures of real compassion, of real recognition of the ugliness of Britian’s imperial past wrongdoings by way of simple apology are apparently beyond her and her government (including the Civil Service).

    As for Britain’s “standing” – it is about bloody time that this small island off the western Eurasian coast put up and shut up and retired. Why on earth should it have any *standing*? What *good* has it ever done? (And I ask this as someone born there, whose father was in the army helping to maintain the Raj – much to my much later disgust, though, disgracefully, not his.)

  7. Bob of Bonsall
    May 31, 2019 at 05:11

    To be fair, and as much as it pains me to do so, I must point out that the Grenfell tragedy and Windrush fiasco were as much due to Labour decisions as they were to Tory incompetence.

    • June 2, 2019 at 16:59

      No not so. There were no rules in force that made it a requirement to clad Grenfell Tower with a highly flammable and toxic material. A much safer form of cladding would have been plain common sense, and its additional costs would have been paltry.

      The ultimate blame for the type of cladding material used rests with Westminster Council, which has been Tory controlled since 1944. Labour has many faults, but responsibility for the Grenfell Tower disaster is not one of them.

  8. John A
    May 31, 2019 at 03:01

    Apropos, the last two paras about the Civil Service in Britain; Up until the last 2 decades or so, some of the brightest and best talents entered the Civil Service, good pay, good career prospects and good pension. Then this was hollowed out, everything ‘public sector’ was villified and privatised and starved of funding. For these reasons, most of the ‘brightest and best’ now shun the Civil Service for a career in casino banking and similar avenues instead. The calibre of Civil Service advice has nose-dived accordingly.
    As with everything else in Britain post Thatcher, everything is for sale, get rich quick, plod along with little or no pay increases and less and less job security, or starve homeless on the streets are the options available these days.

    • Zhu
      May 31, 2019 at 04:51

      Sounds like the USA!

  9. Douglas Turnbull
    May 30, 2019 at 22:20

    The continuing barbaric capitalist nightmare and its sad psychopathic 1% and the destructive antics of its sycophants.
    Yes to people and Earth friendly SOCIALISM now.

    • Bob of Bonsall
      May 31, 2019 at 05:13

      Surely the term “People and Earth Friendly Socialism” is a contradiction in terms?

  10. Tom Kath
    May 30, 2019 at 20:13

    “Something rotten” is not restricted to the state of Denmark, Britain, or USA. It is not even restricted to the “West”, so we must seek more fundamentally for the source of this world’s abject immoral disgustingness. The race to the bottom is keenly contested.

  11. KiwiAntz
    May 30, 2019 at 20:09

    At last, for the long suffering Brits? The Maybot has finally danced her “Robotic Dance” off the World scene to the cheers & high fives of most of the British people, who have thoroughly had a gutsful of her duplicitous behaviour & disastrous mishandling of Brexit! And the article lists her shameful record during the period she was Prime Minister, especially the Glenfell Tower tragedy & her pathetic response along with the criminal culpability of the disgusting Conservative Tory Party & its role in this travesty? Their murderous Policies & austerity directly led to this disgrace? So its good riddance to a contemptible woman, a abject failure & a loser who was good for absolutely nothing except walking on stages & doing really bad dance moves!

  12. geeyp
    May 30, 2019 at 18:47

    Theresa May did this to herself. No tears for her. This column will suffice for her epitaph. How dare she pull some of the stunts she pulled! Making outrageous statements during a delicate time of non-diplomacy. She really wore the mantle of W. proudly.

  13. LJ
    May 30, 2019 at 18:39

    She was all the Tories could come up with to keep Corbyn out of the office of Prime Minister. There should certainly have been a General Election after David Cameron crashed the ship of state with Brexit. Boris Johnson would certainly complete that job so someone else will have to play dartboard until the next election. Despite what the Guardian and BBC and the rest say. And in spite of the Zionist attack on Corbyn he will be Prime Minister. Long Overdue. Britain is Great no more. Without Russian money they are certainly not the world’s 6th largest economy and it appears that unless they want to side with China against the USA which is improbable, no impossible, they will lose Chinese Capital as well after Brexit. Good. I hope Scotland votes for Independence. Wales should as well. Britain deserves to go to hell after their history as an Empire. London is 41% foreign born. Just who are they anyway? The British? We here in the USA, or rather younger people here in the USA should take a good look at what happens over the next 5 years there and put it your memory banks.

  14. elmerfudzie
    May 30, 2019 at 17:37

    Tainted tenure indeed! No one asks the right questions anymore. For example, where did all that Brexit cash come from? As I commented previously at CONSORTIUMNEWS and it is redacted here; “The Panama Papers signaled a need for radical change(s) in the EU banking laws. Hiding money, legit or not from, fair and open taxation, has become increasingly difficult for the upper crust….” The BREXIT cash originated, no surprise folks, from a Gibraltar based firm, where a Mr Arron Banks (big bucks Banks) a guy with money to burn, with corporate holdings in the Isle of Man and too, one of his buddies, an Alan Kentish of the STM group specializing in, oh you’ll love this, offshore wealth preservation! LOL And again, a Mr. Jim Mellon a for real billionaire, several times over I should think, the same guy who carpetbagged Russia after the collapse of the CCCP. His gleanings were called “privatization”… of poor mother Russia. Well, to make a long story short, Mr Kentish, the original pro-BREXITeer was arrested in Gibraltar under the UK’s Crime Act for such suspicious money funneling(s). My oh my Ms May, what strange political bedfellows you seem to have!

  15. Jeff Harrison
    May 30, 2019 at 17:37

    Here today, gone to lunch as the late Douglas Adams put it. The US has it’s own deep state problem of civil servants, especially alphabet soup agencies who are accustomed to operating in the dark and think that they, not the political appointees make policy. Their thinking is bolstered by Congresses who stonewall and delay approving personnel for leadership positions in the civil service.

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