The Government could apply for millions of pounds in EU aid to help rebuild the north of England after flooding in recent months, ministers have said.
In the last 12 months the Italian, Bulgarian and Romanian governments have drawn £40 million from the EU Solidarity Fund to help with recovery after flooding in their respective territory.
Britain has so far declined to make a claim from the fund, but the Government is now keeping “all options open”, according to a statement made by a communities minister.
The EU Solidarity Fund was set up to respond to major natural disasters and has paid out more than 70 times to 24 different European Countries since its creation in 2002.
An application to the fund must be made within 12 weeks of the date of the first damage caused by the disaster, meaning that time is running out for the UK to gain access to the money.
“We are considering all forms of support, not at all ruling out using the EU Solidarity Fund, but in considering whether to use that fund, it is important to note how long it would take for the funding to be received and what ultimate cost/benefit it would bring, given that it would not actually bring additional funding,” Baroness Williams of Trafford told peers in the House of Lords.
Officials at the communities department, which has responsibility for flood defences, told the Independent that the UK could draw on EU aid but said the costs of damage were still be computed and had to be agreed of before a claim could be made.
The apparent delays could mean that Britain misses out on claiming from the fund .
In Pictures: Floods hit the UK
In Pictures: Floods hit the UK
1/17 Floods hit the UK
Members of Cleveland Mountain Rescue and soldiers from 2 Battalion The Duke of Lancasters Regiment evacuating people from the Queens Hotel in York city centre as the River Ouse floods on December 27, 2015
2/17 Floods hit the UK
Teams in Whalley evacuate villagers from their homes
3/17 Floods hit the UK
A resident of Glenridding, which flooded for the third time this month, surveys the damage
4/17 Floods hit the UK
The River Ouse, York, has burst its banks
5/17 Floods hit the UK
A soldier from the 2nd Battalion, Duke of Lancaster’s regiment helps to sure up flood defences in Appleby, Cumbria, one of the areas worst affected by the floods
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Experts believe the cost of clearing up the most recent flooding could exceed £50m (PA)
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Hundreds of people have been evacuated from their homes in York
8/17 Floods hit the UK
A police helicopter photographed the extent of the flooding in York on 27 December.
9/17 Floods hit the UK
Flooding at Clifford's Tower in York on 27 December
10/17 Floods hit the UK
Flooding along York's Inner Ring Road on 27 December
11/17 Floods hit the UK
Water runs out of the Lowther pub in York on 27 December after the River Ouse bursts its banks in York city centre.
12/17 Floods hit the UK
Flooded streets in Dumfries, Scotland on 30 December
13/17 Floods hit the UK
A car left submerged in floodwater in Newton Stewart, Scotland
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Staff at the Worlds End bar in Dumfries Scotland desperately try to pump floodwater out of the building
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A man stands in the doorway of his cottage in the flooded town of Straiton in Scotland
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Flooding in the village of Aberfeldy, Perthshire, Scotland
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Man wades through floodwater outside a fish and chip shop in Dumfries, Scotland
The speculation that ministers might make a claim at the last minute comes after a campaign by Labour and the SNP for the Government to draw on the cash.
Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish First Minister, previously suggested that ministers might be refraining from making an aid claim for fear of antagonising eurosceptics ahead of the UK’s referendum.
“Of course it is possible – and I am purely speculating – that one of the reasons the UK Government has been reluctant to [make an application] is because they are not too keen to draw attention to the benefits of EU membership,” she told the Aberdeen Press and Journal newspaper.
Scottish Government infrastructure minister Keith Brown wrote to his Westminster counterpart Elizabeth Truss to ask her to apply for the money.
Labour MEPs also wrote to David Cameron to demand that he accessed flood aid from the European Union.
A DCLG spokesman said: “An application to the EU Solidarity Fund cannot be made until the full costs are known. The Government has not ruled out an application.