Environment Secretary defends Boris Johnson for not visiting flood victims

23 February 2020, 20:46

Mr Eustice says PM raised incoming storms as the "first thing" on his agenda
Mr Eustice says PM raised incoming storms as the "first thing" on his agenda. Picture: PA

By Matt Drake

Environment Secretary George Eustice has defended Boris Johnson for defying calls to visit flood-stricken communities in the wake of Storm Dennis.

Mr Eustice insisted the Prime Minister had raised incoming storms as the "first thing" on his agenda after being appointed to the role in the recent reshuffle.

Mr Johnson has faced criticism for remaining in the Foreign Secretary's Chevening country estate in Kent rather than visiting regions including Yorkshire, South Wales and the Midlands.

Even opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn visited flood-hit areas and blasted the PM for failing to meet with families affected by the extreme weather.

The Labour leader told the Mirror: “It is the duty of the Prime Minister to be there in places where there are difficulties – whether there is an election on or not.”

But speaking on Sky's Sophy Ridge, Mr Eustice defended the Prime Minister, saying: "It's not true that the Prime Minister's not been engaged in this.

"From the very moment he appointed me he's been engaged."

The Cabinet minister insisted the government is "not a one-man show" and said the national response centre has been stood up to tackle the devastation.

Mr Eustice was pressed on why the PM has not been seen in public in nine days, in stark contrast to during flooding in the election period when he visited Yorkshire and called an emergency Cobra meeting.

He said that was because election campaigning rules meant there was "less ministerial involvement", so "there was seen to be something of a slow start".

He added: "That's why, because of the criticism, the Prime Minister in that instance did stand up Cobra.

"We didn't need to stand up a separate Cabinet Office infrastructure in the form of Cobra because you already had one dedicated to floods that was operating."

Welsh Labour MPs directly appealed to Chancellor Rishi Sunak on Sunday for a one-off grant of £30 million to pay for repairs across the Rhondda Cynon Taff area.

They also asked him for an exemption from council tax and business rates, and a Government-funded review of all former coal mining sites across south Wales.