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Boris Johnson witnesses Hurricane Irma devastation on visit to Anguilla in Caribbean

Foreign Secretary says visit is a 'very important statement' by Government to show it is 'here for UK nationals'

Samuel Osborne
Wednesday 13 September 2017 10:44 BST
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson talks to Royal Marines from 40 Commando in Barbados, where he stopped on his way to visit British territories ravaged by Hurricane Irma
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson talks to Royal Marines from 40 Commando in Barbados, where he stopped on his way to visit British territories ravaged by Hurricane Irma (Georgina Stubbs/PA)

Boris Johnson has landed on the island of Anguilla to witness first-hand the devastation unleashed by Hurricane Irma.

Ahead of touching down at the island's airport on board the Royal Air Force's Airbus A400M Atlas, which was packed with aid supplies and carrying the latest deployment of Royal Marine troops, he surveyed the damaged from the window of the cockpit.

Despite criticism British support for Caribbean communities wrecked by Irma was too slow and not enough, the Foreign Secretary insisted the UK responded "extremely fast" to help.

He said his visit was a "very important statement" by the Government to show it is "here for UK nationals" and was a "sign of our absolute commitment to them".

Priti Patel defends Hurricane Irma relief effort

The chief minister of the British overseas territory of Anguilla backed Mr Johnson, saying he had called "within hours" of the passage of the most powerful storm ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean.

Victor Banks said the £32 million pledged in aid to territories in the region is "significant", but added "it is not enough" and estimated the bill to repair his island's infrastructure alone could reach £1bn.

Speaking to the Press Association on a Virgin Atlantic flight as he headed towards the British territories, Mr Johnson said: "Most fair-minded people have said that the UK responded extremely fast and extremely well.

"We had [landing ship dock] RFA Mounts Bay in position in the region before the hurricane struck - it would have been totally absurd to bring troops in or bring heavy aircraft during the storm itself."

Hundreds of UK troops and 50 police officers have been sent to the British Virgin Islands, where around 100 "very serious" prisoners escaped from jail after the hurricane.

Mr Johnson said hundreds more troops were being deployed to the region. "The military presence is really ratcheting up now," he said.

"There were about 700 troops in the region, that has now gone up to 1,000. It will go up to 1,250 in the course of the next few days."

During his short visit to Anguilla and the British Virgin Islands, Mr Johnson will meet governors and other officials leading the recovery work, and will see first hand some of the most hard-hit places.

RAF Medics from Tactical Medical Wing, RAF Brize Norton, along with British Army Engineers and Royal Marines assess the damage at Princess Alexandra Hospital, in the Island of Anguilla (CPL TIMOTHY JONES RLC/ MOD/EPA)

The Government has faced claims the UK had done less to evacuate its citizens than other nations and did not have the correct equipment in place to deal with the hurricane.

The former attorney general of Anguilla, Rupert Jones, described the £32 million in aid as a "drop in the Caribbean Sea".

Writing in The Guardian, Mr Jones said: "Johnson said on Monday that £28 million of that has already [been] spent. Are we to believe it will only release a further £4 million? This would be derisory - it would not even pay to rebuild one school. I am sure they will do much better.

"The Foreign Secretary has also pledged to match taxpayers' donations to the Red Cross. I just hope that we have not arrived at government-by-crowdfunding."

Additional reporting by PA

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