Boris Johnson Under Fire as Fresh Rain Threatens More U.K. Flooding

Alex Morales
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Boris Johnson Under Fire as Fresh Rain Threatens More U.K. Flooding

(Bloomberg) -- Boris Johnson faces growing criticism of his handling of weeks of flooding in England and Wales, with forecast rain over the weekend threatening to wreak more damage and disruption.

During a visit to flood-hit areas of Wales on Thursday, opposition Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn criticized the prime minister for failing to convene the government’s emergency committee, known as Cobra. Conservative Member of Parliament Craig Whittaker, who represents one of the worst-hit constituencies, said he was “furious” about the slow response, while the Fire Brigades Union accused Johnson of showing “zero leadership.”

“In refusing to visit flood-hit communities, nowhere-to-be-seen Boris Johnson is showing his true colors by his absence,” Corbyn said in a statement. “If the prime minister is not campaigning for votes in a general election, he simply does not care about helping communities affected by flooding.”

Two winter storms since the beginning of February -- Ciara and Dennis -- have pushed rivers to record levels, leaving large areas of land inundated and flooded more than a thousand homes. There is no respite in sight, with the Environment Agency warning that heavy rainfall from Friday may lead to “significant river flooding” spreading to areas across northern England.

History Repeats

It’s not the first time Johnson, who took office in July, has faced criticism over flooding. During election campaigning last November, the prime minister was forced to defend the amount of aid sent to victims in northern England, while footage of Johnson trying to mop a shop floor was widely ridiculed.

Still, he recovered to lead the Tories to a sizeable majority in the December poll, and his ministers have been out in force this week defending his decision to stay away from flood-affected areas this time.

Business Minister Nadhim Zahawi told Sky News on Thursday that instead of a “photo opp,” the prime minister was ensuring assistance gets to areas that need it. “Rather than having a jamboree of media, a whole entourage going, he wants to help people by getting the funding to them,” he said.

Responding to criticism that successive Tory administrations have not done enough to boost flood defenses, Environment Minister George Eustice said the government has pledged 4 billion pounds ($5.2 billion) of spending over five years, up from 2.6 billion pounds in the previous period. He also accused Labour’s Corbyn of politicizing the floods.

Tory Lament

But it isn’t just Johnson’s political opponents criticizing the government. Whittaker, Tory MP for Calder Valley in West Yorkshire, said a Cobra would have brought all ministers needed to agree a funding package into the same room.

According to the Environment Agency, England has already received 141% of its typical monthly rainfall in February, with some areas getting a month’s worth in a single day. Dennis and Ciara combined flooded 1,401 homes, while the agency said it helped protect more than 47,000 properties.

As of Thursday afternoon, the agency had six severe flood warnings in place, meaning there is “an immediate risk to life,” as well as 91 flood warnings, meaning that flooding is expected. There are a further 154 flood alerts -- meaning flooding is possible -- in place.

“This is the third weekend we have seen exceptional river levels and stormy weather,” Caroline Douglass, director of incident management at the agency, said in an interview. “With the effects of climate change, we need to prepare for more frequent periods of extreme weather like this.”

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