Boris Johnson is facing a backlash over the government’s handling of Storm Dennis today as it emerged he has no plans to visit flooding sites today and is staying at a country residence in Kent.
Downing Street said the PM was receiving ‘updates’ at the Chevening estate near Sevenoaks, and there is no Cobra emergency committee meeting scheduled.
Anger has been growing over the response to the extreme weather, despite new Environment Secretary George Eustice insisting ministers have a ‘firm grip’.
Mr Eustice also risked fury as he argued ministers will ‘never be able to protect every single property’ from flooding.
A NO10 spokesman said Defra and the agencies are ‘continuing to work on this’ and ‘the PM will receive regular updates’.
The government’s response to the deluge over the weekend has prompted fury from Labour with shadow culture secretary Tracy Brabin claiming ministers would have moved quicker if the flooding was in the south east of England.
Boris Johnson, pictured meeting with his new Cabinet on Friday last week, is under pressure to call a Cobra meeting in response to the flooding crisis
George Eustice, the Environment Secretary, said the government does have a ‘firm grip’ on the response to the deluge
Storm Dennis saw more than a month’s rain fall in 48 hours in some places in the UK at the weekend
Hundreds of flood alerts remain in place after Storm Dennis battered the country as severe weather conditions saw winds of more than 90mph lash parts of the UK, while more than a month’s worth of rain fell in 48 hours in places.
Major incidents were declared due to flooding in South Wales as well as in Worcestershire and Herefordshire, while a record number of flood warnings and alerts were issued by the Environment Agency (EA).
Ms Brabin told the BBC’s Westminster Hour programme: ‘It seems this government is all promises and no action. If this was in Surrey or the south, we would have had swifter action.
‘Why hasn’t the government called Cobra? This is an absolute emergency. We need to see people round the table.’
But Mr Eustice today defended the government’s response as he also dismissed questions about why Mr Johnson had not responded personally to the flooding.
Asked why Mr Johnson had not followed the example of David Cameron who visited flooding victims when he was PM, Mr Eustice said: ‘I was there yesterday, I have been in Yorkshire, in fact the floods in Yorkshire are not as serious as had been expected because this water actually went further south than we originally expected.
‘We do have some concerns over the River Ouse and we are not out of the woods yet on that, we will have another couple of days to watch that.
‘The biggest problems at the moment are in the west country, in that catchment around the Severn.’
Told by Sky News that the question had been about Mr Johnson’s leadership and response to the flooding, Mr Eustice said: ‘When I was appointed by the Prime Minister one of the first things he mentioned was the floods. We discussed Storm Dennis as it was coming through.
‘I am leading on this. I am in the Cabinet. I was up there yesterday in Yorkshire, I have been in regular contact with officials on this and we had a conference call with all of the flood resilience forums on Friday and I am in regular contact with all ministerial colleagues.
‘The government has a firm grip on this and it is a very difficult situation. Widespread flood alerts but our flood defences are working as intended.’
Mr Eustice was told he was not answering the question and was asked why Mr Johnson had not moved to reassure flooding victims.
He replied: ‘I am out there reassuring people. I went up there yesterday on his behalf. He has been to these areas before, I am sure he will again.’
Tracy Brabin, Labour’s shadow culture secretary, suggested the government would have responded quicker to the flooding if it had affected the south east of England
David Cameron meets soldiers working on flood relief in York city centre after the river Ouse burst its banks, on December 28, 2015
Asked if Mr Johnson had a visit planned, Mr Eustice said ‘I don’t manage the Prime Minister’s diary’.
He also said the government could not protect every home in the UK from flooding.
‘It is the case when you have these events you will never be able to protect every single property but the investments we have made mean that we are able to protect a significant number,’ he said.
The UK has now faced storms two weekends in a row.
Army personnel were deployed over the weekend to assist people in parts of West Yorkshire which had already been badly hit by flooding during Storm Ciara.
Roads and railways were flooded on Sunday after the torrential downpours and high winds.
The government has activated the Bellwin scheme to provide financial assistance to storm-hit areas.