LONDON — Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s response to a storm that battered the country over the weekend, causing severe flooding in hundreds of towns and villages, prompted a backlash from critics inside and outside his party Monday.
Johnson came under fire Monday after his office said that he had no plans to visit any of the flooded areas after Storm Dennis. Flood warnings remained in place across the country, but Johnson had not called a meeting of the government’s emergencies committee, known as COBRA, to discuss the situation.
The storm dumped more than half a month’s worth of rain in one day in some areas. Rivers overflowed their banks, sending water several feet deep through streets, houses and businesses, forcing many people to leave their homes and cutting some communities off from relief efforts.
Some areas were still recovering from heavy rains and strong winds brought by another storm just a week earlier.
Andy Page, chief meteorologist for the Met Office, Britain’s weather service, said that more rain was likely Wednesday evening, with the possibility that it could be “prolonged and possibly heavy.”
“With the ground already saturated, there is a chance of further flooding,” he said in a statement, urging the public to keep an eye on flood warnings.
At least one person died as a result of the flooding over the weekend, and hundreds more have been displaced, the BBC reported.
Serious flooding is becoming a more frequent reality in Britain due to global warming, experts say.
Mohammad Heidarzadeh, head of Brunel University’s coastal engineering and resilience lab, said that the country’s flood defense systems, which were developed decades ago, were “not fit to address the current climate situation, which is characterized by high frequency and high intensity climate events.”
Floods that were once seen every 15 to 20 years are now being seen every two to five years, he said.
“Given the major flooding in the past couple of weeks (and past few years) and changes in the frequency and intensity of weather incidents, it appears that our flood defense systems require improvement,” he said in an email.
Philip Davies, a Conservative lawmaker who represents the area of Shipley in northern England, found fault with the government’s response to increased flooding in recent years — a period when his own party has been in control. He told The Telegraph that the same people in his community whose homes flooded over the weekend were also affected by devastating flooding in December 2015.
“It’s not as if there hasn’t been enough time to do something,” he said. “What has been done to stop it happening again? Precious little.”
Keir Starmer, a Labour lawmaker who is a contender for leadership of the party, denounced Johnson’s decision not to visit communities affected by the flooding. In a post on Twitter, he urged the prime minister to “give communities the support they need.”
“This is an appalling decision,” Starmer wrote in another post. “The recent flooding is a stark reminder that the Government is not doing enough to get to grips with the climate crisis.”
George Eustice, the new environment minister, defended Johnson’s actions Monday.
“I went up there yesterday on his behalf,” Eustice told Sky News. “He has been to these areas before, and I am sure he will be up there again.”
Johnson faced similar criticism in November when he said during a visit to an area of northern England with significant flooding that the situation did not rise to the level of a national emergency. After members of the public and opposition politicians denounced the statement, Johnson chaired a meeting with the government’s emergency committee.