Boris Johnson declined to apologise over his government’s slow response to the flooding across parts of the north of England, insisting that a huge amount of work was going on to help and compensate victims.
The prime minister faced difficult questions over whether enough had been spent on flood defences in deluged regions of Yorkshire, the east Midlands and Lincolnshire, after giving a speech on how he would give billions of pounds to research and development.
Asked to apologise, and challenged over why voters in the areas underwater should support him, Johnson insisted the government stood “ready to support in any way” it could the 850 residents whose homes were flooded.
He said the government had already put £2.6bn into flood defences and would look at longer term solutions, such as planting more trees, to manage the environment better. Earlier, he was accused by some flood victims of doing nothing to help them as he visited one of the worst affected areas.
The prime minister appeared in Stainforth, South Yorkshire, as 100 soldiers were deployed to help shore up the region’s battered flood defences.
One resident told Johnson: “I’m not very happy about talking to you, so, if you don’t mind, I’ll just mope on with what I’m doing.” The woman, clutching a wheelbarrow alongside the troops sent to the area to help, added: “You’ve not helped us … I don’t know what you’re here today for.”
Another told him: “You’ve took your time, Boris, haven’t you?” Johnson replied: “We’ve been on it round the clock.”
Earlier the prime minister chaired a meeting of the government emergency committee, Cobra, following pressure from opposition leaders to get a grip on the crisis.
The Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, and the Liberal Democrat leader, Jo Swinson, visited Fishlake, near Doncaster, on Tuesday, outlining pledges to spend £5.6bn and £5bn respectively on flood defences.
However, Johnson did not mention any extra money for flood defences as he outlined a multi-billion-pound package of spending on research and development while visiting an electric car factory near Coventry.
He claimed a Conservative government would launch three industrial revolutions – in green tech, innovation and skills. His main policy planks were:
Ensuring that everyone in England and Wales was within 30 miles of an electric vehicle charging point, by spending £500m on expanding the network
Increasing the target for electricity from offshore wind power from 30GW to 40GW by 2030, a move he said that could create 9,000 more jobs
Spending £800m on carbon capture and storage (CCS) clusters to help them become established by the mid-2020s
Doubling research and development spending to £18bn by 2024 compared with 2017 levels, including funding for advanced maths research, a national space strategy and support for nuclear fusion
About £1.8bn for rebuilding further education colleges
“I want you to imagine a Britain ... where in 10 years’ time scientists are starting to reap the huge rewards from our plans to double funding for research and businesses as well as from space to AI to the gigafactory for batteries we are going to build in the next three years,” Johnson said.
The speech also reiterated his core message on Brexit, claiming he had a “Blue Peter deal – here’s one I made earlier” and one that was “ready to go, just add water, stir in pot”.
He also suggested that all big new public-sector projects would be forced to hire British apprentices as workers after the UK left the EU.