UK faces more wildfires, says minister – but government delays plan for emergencies

‘Missing while Britain burns’: Labour accuses Tories of dragging their feet on resilience plan

Adam Forrest
Wednesday 20 July 2022 16:27 BST
Drone footage shows devastation as homes destroyed by fire in Wennington

Britain is likely to face more heatwaves and wildfires because of climate change and “must learn to live with extreme events”, said Cabinet Office minister Kit Malthouse.

But he admitted that a plan to make the country more resilience to the climate crisis and other emergencies would be delayed until the new prime minister is installed at No 10.

Labour claimed the government had gone “missing while Britain burns” during the recent heatwave which saw record temperatures and dozens of homes destroyed in wildfires.

Deputy leader Angela Rayner accused ministers of dragging their feet – pointing out that they were yet to produce a national resilience strategy despite a consultation finishing in September.

“It’s already been 10 months – why should British people be forced to wait a whole year?” said Ms Rayner. “It’s the primary duty of any government to keep the country safe.”

The Labour frontbencher added: “It has literally taken the country to go up in flames for the minister to turn his focus on this emergency … Isn’t it the truth that the prime minister and his entire government have gone missing while Britain burned?”

Mr Malthouse denied failing to prepare for the crisis. He told the Commons the government recognised that “we are likely to experience more of these incidents and that we should not under-estimate their speed, scope and severity”.

He added: “Britain may be unaccustomed to such high temperatures but the UK, along with our European neighbours, must learn to live with extreme events such as these … We will continue to face acute events driven by climate change.”

But the Cabinet Office minister said the national resilience strategy would have to wait until the autumn – promising it would be launched at “earliest possible opportunity by the incoming administration”.

Mr Malthouse said the government was “at the forefront of international efforts to reach net zero” – and pointed out that the environment department has a national adaptation programme to help manage climate change.

He also defended Boris Johnson, who was accused “clocking off” after it was confirmed he will miss a meeting of the government’s emergency Cobra committee at the weekend.

Ms Rayner said that Mr Johnson was “no Churchill – he has been missing in action. Where was he when Cobra was called last weekend?”

But Mr Malthouse said the prime minister had “monitored our work and has been specifically briefed on a number of occasions”.

Ms Rayner also warned that the Tory leadership contenders vying to succeed Mr Johnson “will leave us vulnerable to more freak natural disasters”.

Rishi Sunak, who vowed to uphold the ban on onshore wind farms on Wednesday, has warned that if progress on the plan to achieve net zero emissions by 2050 is “too hard and too fast” it would lose public support.

Foreign secretary Liz Truss has suggested she wanted to look again at policies aimed at achieving net zero, vowing to stop the green levies which help pay for investment in renewable energy.

Meanwhile, Labour MP Ian Lavery criticised the “paltry” 2 per cent pay increase proposed for firefighters, adding: “It is time we stopped clapping the great members of fire and rescue services, and start paying.”

But Mr Malthouse said the pay review was “not within control of the government”, and involved local authorities who administered fire services – including councils run by Labour.

Earlier on Wednesday, Mr Johnson appeared to reject a call by Tory MP Caroline Nokes to help firefighters with a ban on disposable barbeques and Chinese sky lanterns.

Commissioner of the London Fire Brigade Andy Roe had called for an urgent ban on disposable barbecues, as firefighters continue to feel the effects of unprecedented heatwave.

“The key thing is for people to behave responsibly with these things,” Mr Johnson said at Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs). “It’s clearly insane to take a disposable barbeque onto dry grass.”

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