Ministers are under pressure to explain the UK Government’s response to Hurricane Irma and their “apparent lack of forward-thinking”.
Two chairs of powerful Westminster committees have warned Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and International Development Secretary Priti Patel that the British effort has been “found wanting” and many suffering the storms devastation in UK overseas territories “are still in grave need”.
A joint letter signed by Tory MP Tom Tugendhat, chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, and Labour’s Stephen Twigg, international development committee chair voices anger frustration felt across the political spectrum.
It reads: “Experts and many in the area have been critical of the overall level of relief currently on offer as well as the apparent lack of forward-thinking once the storm’s route to Florida became more than just a possibility.
“In addition to the immediate effort to provide disaster relief, we would expect the UK Government to take a role in the long-term reconstruction of the assets of these communities which have been devastated by this ferocious storm.”
The letter amplifies widespread criticism of the UK response to the storm, which in comparison to Dutch and French has been judged poor.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said Theresa May “should have acted much faster” given the “well-known” potential magnitude of the disaster.
Lord Naseby, a Conservative peer, has also asked ministers explain why they had failed to do more for “hundreds of thousands of British citizens potentially in peril”.
The storm has ripped through the Caribbean and has so far claimed the lives of at least 23.
“We are concerned that many in the UK’s overseas territories in the Caribbean are still in grave need,” the letter goes on. “In Anguilla, Montserrat and the British Virgin Islands (BVI) and Turks and Caicos, our response still requires improvement and the arrival of HMS Ocean in two weeks’ time will be later than any of us would wish.”
Around three RAF planes from RAF Brize Norton, carrying equipment and as many as 200 Royal Marines were due to take off on Friday. The RFA Mounts Bay dropped off supplies in Anguilla where one person died before arriving in the British Virgin Islands, where at least four people have died and a state of emergency has been declared. It has also assisted with cleanup operations in Anguilla.
The Turks and Caicos Islands – also British overseas territory – was badly the hurricane overnight on Thursday. It declared a national shutdown as power and phone lines collapsed.
The letter implores Johnson and Patel to account for the UK’s meagre response to the two committees and offer assurances the Government is prepared as the Caribbean braces for a second storm - Hurricane Jose.
It ends: “Finally, with the imminent arrival of Hurricane Jose, we ask you to report to our newly-formed committees on what the UK Government will be doing to ensure we are ready to support those who need it before this further storm makes landfall?
“We very much hope those in the region will be spared further damage but, should it be needed, we hope you will ensure that the UK will do what it can to help those affected.”