POLITICS

Eric Pickles Denies Cabinet Split With Owen Paterson, 'We Are Brothers From A Different Mother'

10/02/2014 16:44 GMT | Updated 10/02/2014 18:59 GMT

Eric Pickles has denied making even the "slightest criticism of the Environment Agency" following the floods in England, despite having appeared to have done just that yesterday.

The communities secretary also sought to dismiss reports he had fallen out with Owen Paterson - describing he and the environment secretary as "brothers from a different mother".

Hauled to the Commons today to explain the government's response to the damaging floods that have hit the South West and the Thames Vally, Pickles said it was the time to "rise above petty politics".

His call for unity was greeted with howls of derision from Labour MPs, given reports that Paterson had complained directly to David Cameron about Pickles' "grandstanding".

Pickles has taken on the role of supervising the response to the floods from Paterson while the latter recovers from eye surgery.

Pickles told MPs that he had not fallen out with his cabinet colleague. "We are two peas in a pod, we are two brothers from a different mother," he said. "I am the mere custodian of his wishes."

As the government rushed to deal with the political fallout from the floods on Sunday, Pickles used an appearance on BBC1's Andrew Marr Show to pin the blame on the Environment Agency.

"We made a mistake, there's no doubt about that and we perhaps relied too much on the Environment Agency's advice," he said.

He added: "I am really sorry that we took the advice. We thought we were dealing with experts."

However pushed on the government infighting by Labour's shadow environment secretary Maria Eagle in the Commons this afternoon, Pickles said it was "entirely wrong" to suggest "for one moment that I have issued even the slightest criticism of the marvellous workforce of the Environment Agency."

He added: "My admiration for the work of the Environment Agency exceeds no one. I believe it is time for us all to start to work together and not to make silly party political points."

Earlier on Monday, Cameron appeared to suggest Environment Agency boss, Lord Chris Smith, was on borrowed time.

When asked if Lord Smith should resign as head of the agency, he replied: "This isn't the time for a change in personnel, this is the time for getting on, everyone has to get on with the job they are doing. There will be time later on for talking about such things."

Ed Miliband said: "It is a disgrace that you have government ministers today pointing the finger at each other when they should be rolling their sleeves up and helping those who are affected."

Hundreds more homes are at risk of flooding as southern Britain faced more heavy rain and strong winds. The Environment Agency said it was working closely with the emergency services along the Thames, where the most severe flood risks are.

The severe weather which has hit the UK, resulting in large areas of flooding on the Somerset Levels, shows little chance of easing until next week, the Met Office warned.

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