According to Prime Minister, David Cameron, Britain doesn’t need EU funds to help areas devastated by floods because ‘it’s quicker and better’ to use the country’s own money.
So it seems that Britain is so flush with cash that it can turn down around £125 million in EU emergency help for areas of the country devastated by record levels of rain. Really?
- If that’s the case, then why does the government need to impose £12 billion of austerity measures that will mostly hit the poor and needy?
- If that’s the case, then why did the government scrap flood defence plans that could have saved hundreds of homes and businesses from ruination?
- If that’s the case, then why does the country have a shortage of homes, hospitals and schools?
- If that’s the case, why are patients being denied life-saving drugs on the grounds of cost?
- If that’s the case, then why isn’t there more help for the hundreds of thousands of people who have to use charitable food-banks because they can’t afford a proper meal?
Mr Lewis explained, “Hundreds of my constituents in Radcliffe have had a terrible Christmas due to the flooding that has devastated so many people’s homes and businesses in Greater Manchester and across the north of England. Bury and other councils have to pick up the infrastructure costs.
“The European solidarity fund exists to help in such circumstances. It would be unforgivable to put Tory party management and posturing on Europe ahead of the national interest.”
Mr Cameron responded, “First of all, I send the hon. Gentleman’s constituents my sympathy for the flooding that they suffered”
But he made clear, “I think it is quicker and better to give people the help they need from our own resources.”
Mr Cameron explained, “I have looked very carefully at the question of EU funding; we looked at it previously in 2013. It takes a very long time to get hold of any money and it is very uncertain whether you get it. Indeed, you end up paying for it in many ways as well.”
He added, “Let me say that we will do everything we can, including through the Bellwin scheme, to make sure that his council is fully reimbursed for all the emergency measures that it had to take. We will also make sure that we put in place the flood prevention measures and investment that are coming down the track.”
As I reported here last week, EU member states are entitled to apply for money from the EU Solidarity Fund when a natural disaster causes substantial damage, calculated as a percentage of Gross National Income.
According to calculations by accountants, KPMG, the floods have already caused over £5 billion of damage, meaning that the UK is entitled to apply for emergency EU help.
Catherine Bearder, Liberal Democrat MEP for south-east England, said that EU officials told her that the UK government could apply for £125m in grants for flood victims, 10% of which could be available within six weeks.
Although some of the grants would be clawed back from our EU rebate, the European Commission explained to me today that this would only affect a proportion of the funds, and overall Britain would gain a net benefit from the receipt of the emergency money.
I asked Defra, the UK’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, whether the Prime Minister’s reply definitely meant that the UK would not be applying for EU funds to help with our floods disaster.
Defra emailed me a reply from ‘a government spokesperson’ that I could use as a quote for my story:
“We are committed to supporting communities hit by the recent flooding. We have opened the Bellwin scheme for local authorities, with 100% of eligible costs to be met by the Government, and our investment in recovery from Storm Eva and Storm Desmond now stands at nearly £200m.
“This will help people directly affected by the floods, support homeowners protect their properties and ensure flood affected businesses that have had their trading disrupted can get back on their feet.”
I immediately complained to the Defra Press Office:
“Thank you, but the quote doesn’t even mention the EU Solidarity Fund, which seems somewhat odd. Is the government going to apply for the fund or not? Is it the case that the country is rich enough not to need the EU emergency help?”
I will report back here if I receive a reply.
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Other stories by Jon Danzig:
- Britain rejects EU help for food and flood victims
- Does the Prime Minister know what he’s doing?
- Benefit tourism: why ‘fix’ a non-existent problem?
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— Jon Danzig (@Jon_Danzig) January 8, 2016