Boris Johnson has been accused of displaying an “utterly outrageous” lack of concern about the severe floods that have devastated hundreds of homes and caused more than 1,200 properties to be evacuated in northern England. The prime minister will chair a meeting of the government’s emergency committee Cobra on Tuesday after he was criticised by…
Boris Johnson has been accused of displaying an “utterly outrageous” lack of concern about the severe floods that have devastated hundreds of homes and caused more than 1,200 properties to be evacuated in northern England.
The prime minister will chair a meeting of the government’s emergency committee Cobra on Tuesday after he was criticised by Jeremy Corbyn for not declaring a national emergency.
That criticism was echoed in the towns badly affected by the downpours, where 30 flood warnings remain in place including five “danger to life” alerts along the River Don in South Yorkshire.
In the Nottinghamshire town of Worksop, scores of residents were evacuated and more than 200 homes and businesses were flooded on Friday after a month’s worth of rain fell in 24 hours.
Simon Greaves, the Labour leader of Bassetlaw district council, said Johnson had been “preoccupied with electioneering” when he should have been coordinating a national response to the disaster, which encompasses Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and South Yorkshire.
He said: “The government had a fantastic opportunity to step up to the plate and take emergency action. For me, they were concentrating more on the general election campaign than they were on people’s lives. They had an opportunity to take action [and] they consciously chose not to. I think it’s utterly outrageous.”
Johnson was filmed mopping up in a branch of Specsavers when he visited flood-hit Matlock on Friday night after campaigning in nearby Mansfield. Earlier that day the body of Annie Hall, the former high sheriff of Derbyshire, had been found, after she had been swept away by the River Derwent at Darley Dale, not far from Matlock.
On his visit to Derbyshire, the prime minister said the government needed to invest in flood defences but that the floods were not “looking like something we need to escalate to the level of a national emergency”.
Greaves, who showed the housing secretary, Robert Jenrick, the damage in Worksop on Friday, said he had asked the government for new money to help rebuild the areas affected but that he had not yet received a response.
The Liberal Democrat leader, Jo Swinson, visited Fishlake near Doncaster on Tuesday, and Corbyn was expected to arrive later in the day. Sue Marshall, who has been unable to return to her house since she was evacuated on Saturday, said she hoped the political visits would lead to real help for those affected – and that she feared being flooded on Thursday, when more rain is forecast.
“I’ve just said to Jo Swinson that it’s all very well her doing this but in a month’s time we’re going to be old news,” she said. “What we need to know is that in two months’ time, the MPs will revisit this and look at what has been done to stop it happening again. And my immediate concern is what are they doing now to stop it happening on Thursday.”
David Hughes, the mayor of Matlock, said it was right that the government had called an emergency meeting but he was surprised that Johnson had not yet visited the worst-affected areas. “Obviously if people are flooded for days and days on end then it is an emergency for them and it seems to be over a large area,” he said. “Given the persistency [of the floods], yes I think he probably should make a visit.”
Asked whether Johnson’s visit to Matlock had helped the clean-up operation, Hughes said: “Well, comments have been made about Boris Johnson drying a floor that was already dry. That’s a little unfair because the Greggs next door had a wet floor so I suspect Specsavers’ floor was wet, but it was nowhere near as badly affected as the shops on the other side of the road, shall we say.”
In the Doncaster suburb of Bentley, which remained under a severe flood warning on Tuesday, Tony Nicholson said there was anger at the hierarchy of the town’s Labour council and the Conservative government over their response to the disaster.
“If this was in another area this would be deemed a national emergency. This is devastating for people’s lives,” said Nicholson, a Green party parish councillor. Nicholson said he was not making a party political point but was angry at the official response at a national and local level.
“It’s the official response that’s the issue, whoever is in charge,” he said. “It seems it has not been fast enough and because these people are not wealthy people and it has happened before, they have a sense that they’re not that important.”
Jane Cox, the leader of the Conservative group on Doncaster council, said it was inappropriate to score political points out of a human tragedy. “It does matter that [the government] should acknowledge it but I firmly believe it should not be politicised,” she said. “I would be horrified if anyone started slating anyone from the Labour party for what has happened.”