19th March 2020

Environment Boris Johnson heckled as ‘traitor’ during floods visit to Bewdley

Environment Boris Johnson heckled as ‘traitor’ during floods visit to Bewdley

Environment

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Media captionBoris Johnson: “It’s all too easy for the prime minister to come to a place in the middle of an emergency”

The prime minister has said he will look at making defences more permanent as he visited a flood-hit town.

Boris Johnson visited Bewdley in Worcestershire, where the River Severn overtopped the flood defences during Storm Dennis last month.

One onlooker shouted “traitor” at the prime minister, while others posed for selfies with Mr Johnson on a bridge.

Earlier, the Treasury announced plans to double funding for flood defences in England over the next five years.

The money, due to be announced on Wednesday, will help to build 2,000 new flood and coastal defence schemes and protect 336,000 properties in the country.

This year was the wettest February in the UK since records began in 1862, with more than three times the average rainfall – as three successive storms left rivers bursting their banks and communities flooded.

In some of the worst-hit areas in the Midlands, Wales and south Yorkshire, homes and businesses flooded three times in a matter of weeks.

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Reuters

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The River Severn peaked at 4.6m in Bewdley

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PA Media

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Boris Johnson met with Environment Agency workers to discuss efforts to tackle the flooding

Last month, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn branded Mr Johnson a “part time prime minister” who “goes Awol” during emergencies.

Mr Johnson was asked why he did not visit the flooded communities sooner as she was shown flood defences by the Environment Agency (EA) in Bewdley.

“It’s too easy for a PM to come to a place in a middle of an emergency, it’s not so easy frankly for the emergency services,” he said.

“What I’ve been doing since the flooding began is co-ordinating the national response but also looking at what we can do in the next months and years to ensure this country really is ready to cope with the impacts of flooding.”

Mr Johnson received a mixed reaction as he spoke to residents affected by the floods and said he would “get Bewdley done”.

A number of people tried to shake his hand and take photos as he walked along the river bank.

But he was also told to “do your job” as he was given a demonstration of how flood barriers work.

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PA Media

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Dozens of homes were evacuated after the Severn overtopped defences in Bewdley

The prime minister said he was “so sorry to hear” some homes had been flooded by as much as 2ft of water.

He also met members of the emergency services who responded when the water levels rose.

Mr Johnson said he had discussed with the EA “what permanent defences we can put in and what’s the business case”.

The prime minister described the temporary barriers, such as those that were deployed in Bewdley and Ironbridge, as “great bits of kit”.

“But when you have a big flood like that, they’re not going to be effective,” he said.

“The things we have to look at are the rules which currently say that you can’t put in permanent defences when you’ve only got a small number of households potentially affected.

“The case we need to make is it’s not just the number of households, it’s also the economic damage, it’s the damage to confidence, all the rest of it in the town.”

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PA Media

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People tried to shake the prime minister’s hand as he made his way along the river

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Media captionFlood water pours over the top of Bewdley’s barriers

Environment Secretary George Eustice visited Ironbridge and Shrewsbury, which were particularly badly hit, on 27 February and defended the prime minister for not visiting himself.

Local Conservative MPs also stopped short of calling on the prime minister to visit the flooded areas, with Bewdley MP Mark Garnier saying a visit would have been nothing more than a “photo opportunity”.

Dave Throup, from the EA, said further heavy rain forecast for Monday and Tuesday meant there were further “significant” risks of flooding along the Severn next week.

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