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Boris Johnson: Criticism of UK response to Hurricane Irma completely unjustified

The Foreign Secretary faced claims that the UK had done less to evacuate its citizens than other nations.

Boris Johnson has defended the Government’s response to Hurricane Irma, insisting that criticism of its reaction to the “biggest consular crisis” the country had faced was “completely unjustified”.

The Foreign Secretary faced claims that the UK had done less to evacuate its citizens than other nations and did not have the correct equipment in place to deal with the catastrophe in the Caribbean.

Mr Johnson said there had been an “unprecedented” effort to deal with the aftermath of the biggest storm in the region since records began.

Hurricane Irma's trail of destruction (PA Graphics)

On BBC Radio 4’s Today programme Mr Johnson was challenged about claims from the father of a stranded Briton that the Government’s response had shown a “callous disregard” to its citizens.

Geoffrey Scott Baker, whose daughter Amy Brown is on Saint Martin, said: “Nothing is happening.

“It seems that everybody can airlift their citizens out except for the UK who are doing absolutely nothing on the ground.”

Defending the UK’s preparedness for the disaster, Mr Johnson said: “It doesn’t make any sense when a hurricane is impending to send in heavy aircraft or to send in ships that are not going to be capable themselves of withstanding the storm.

Royal Marines of 40 Commando speaking to the locals in Tortola in the British Virgin Isles who have had their homes devastated by Hurricane Irma (Joel Rouse/MoD Crown Copyright/PA)

“The French had to ask us for assistance later on because we had got the right sort of kit there.

“If you look at what is happening now you can see an unprecedented British effort to deal with what has been an unprecedented catastrophe for the region.”

Mr Johnson said the UK had responded in a “timely and a highly organised fashion”, with further promises of support expected on top of the £32 million already committed and the pledge to match donations to the Red Cross appeal.

“We will be announcing further support later on in the course of the next few days,” he said.

French President Emmanuel Macron is travelling to the hurricane-hit areas on Tuesday (Louisa Gouliamaki/AP)

“This is an absolute priority for our Government and we understand the huge economic blow that has been suffered in these islands.”

French President Emmanuel Macron is heading to the hurricane-battered region on Tuesday, but Downing Street was “not aware of any plans” for British ministers to visit the Caribbean disaster zone.

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince Cable said: “The action of other governments puts Theresa May’s response in sharp relief.

Asked why the UK had not airlifted its citizens out of the area before the hurricane struck, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “We are talking about a huge number of British citizens who are in the path of this hurricane, and we are doing everything we can to help them.”

Lib Dems leader Vince Cable said other governments were putting the UK's to shame in their response to the hurricanes (Yui Mok/PA)

The spokesman said the UK had been able to provide assistance with strategic airlift capacity in response to a French request for help, with an RAF C17 being used to fly helicopters to the region.

“The morning after Irma hit, Mounts Bay delivered six tonnes of shelter and cleared the runway to allow relief flights to land,” he said.

“The ship moved to BVI (British Virgin Islands) and got the airfield operating again. It will deliver further supplies to Anguilla today, having resupplied.

“We’ve provided £32 million in immediate assistance to the overseas territories. DFID are matching every pound donated to the British Red Cross by the public.

“We’ve deployed almost 700 troops to the region. We have three helicopters and an A400 aircraft to help transport personnel between the islands. There will be more helicopters arriving with HMS Ocean. Twenty tonnes of aid are there.

Kate Osamor said people affected by the hurricanes need to see the Government are doing all they can to help them (Danny Lawson/PA)

“Other countries are asking for our assistance in the region. The French asked for our assistance and we are providing that.”

Shadow international development secretary Kate Osamor said: “Boris Johnson was clear on Sunday that this is a national disaster being treated as though in Inverness, Dover or St Ives. Donald Trump is headed to Florida, and now Emmanuel Macron will visit St Martin tomorrow.

“But with the UK response to Irma drawing wide criticism, Theresa May is still to announce whether she or Boris Johnson will visit those most affected, look them in the eye and put their concerns at the centre of her Government’s response plan.

“The British people in the Overseas Territories deserve to see first-hand that the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary are doing everything they can to get a grip on this national disaster.”

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