13/11/2019 18:34 GMT | Updated 14/11/2019 09:30 GMT

Boris Johnson Refuses To Apologise To Flood Victims But Calls For More Trees To Improve Defences

The prime minister was heckled by flood victims while visiting South Yorkshire earlier in the day.

Boris Johnson has refused to apologise to flood victims angry about the speed of the government response - but called for the plantation of millions of trees to prevent future disasters.

The prime minister was heckled by flood-hit voters as he visited South Yorkshire earlier on Wednesday, with some suggesting he had been too slow to respond to the crisis.

But he declined the opportunity to apologise while answering questions following his first major speech of the campaign, instead highlighting the need for investment in flood defences, including the plantation of millions of trees.

The PM also:

  • Criticised Jeremy Corbyn’s insistence that Islamic State’s leader should have been arrested in a recent raid which left him dead as “naive to the point of being dangerous”

  • Repeated his message to voters thinking of backing Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party that “there is only one way to ensure that we get Brexit done”, by voting Tory

  • Dropped a pre-briefed passage from his speech in which he suggested Corbyn was a political masurbator

  • Pledged to double funding for research and development to £18bn.

Johnson said local and national authorities and emergency services have been “working flat out” since last Thursday to respond to floods in South Yorkshire, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire and said the government “stands ready to support in any way we can”.

The PM also suggested he would invest more in flood defences, including in the long term “planting millions of trees”.

A study for the Environment Agency in 2016 suggested that planting trees around rivers could reduce the height of flooding in towns by 20% and the government in August launched a pilot project to plant hundreds to help improve protection for people in Leeds.

Answering questions after his speech, the PM said: “We need to be investing in flood defences, flood banks, protection of all kinds.

“It’s also why I mention the importance of planting millions of trees, it’s not an immediate solution clearly, but in the long-term we are going to need about the whole way in which we manage our landscape and we manage water in our landscape.

“You just have to look around, fly over the UK at the moment, and you can see the threat of flooding has by no means gone away.”

PA Wire/PA Images
Prime Minister Boris Johnson addresses workers during a visit to the London Electric Vehicle Company in Coventry

Johnson also criticised Corbyn while defending the US special forces raid which led to the death last month of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who blew himself up with a suicide vest after being cornered.

The Labour leader earlier on Wednesday suggested it would have been better if al-Baghdadi was arrested and put on trial if possible.

“Al-Baghdadi was an absolute diabolical foe of this country, of our liberal values, everything we believe in and support,” Johnson said.

“I think his (Corbyn’s) approach is naive and it is naive to the point of being dangerous.”

Johnson also stopped short of urging Farage to withdraw Brexit Party candidates from Labour-held Tory target seats, despite the threat that he could split the Leave vote and deny the Conservatives a majority.

He added: “I just want to say about Nigel Farage and the Brexit Party. It is always a very difficult thing for any party leader to withdraw candidates from an election and I understand that.

“But all I can say ... for the avoidance of doubt, to repeat my central message, there is only one way to ensure that we get Brexit done - get this thing finished, get us out, do a fantastic free-trade deal - and that is to vote for us and the Conservatives.”

Johnson blamed the dropping of a passage of his speech in which he suggested Corbyn’s plans for a second Brexit referendum amounted to “onanism”, or masturbation, by claiming it was written in “a stray early draft”, despite it being sent out to the entire UK media by Conservative central office as an official preview.