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Government defends UK response to Hurricane Irma

Downing Street said claims it wasn't doing enough to help affected citizens were "wrong".

Many areas on the affected islands are without power.
Many areas on the affected islands are without power.

The government has defended its response to Hurricane Irma after being accused of doing less than other countries to evacuate affected citizens from disaster zones.

One man, whose daughter is on Caribbean island St Martin, claimed the UK government was doing "absolutely nothing on the ground" to help.

Geoffrey Baker said the British response had been "absolutely pitiful", adding that his daughter had been left to hide from looters.

Despite British troops and aircraft having now landed on the British Virgin Islands, No 10 is coming in for growing criticism.

But both Boris Johnson and Priti Patel have defended the government, slamming counter-claims as "completely unjustified" and "wrong" on Monday.

UK aircraft arrive on the British Virgin Islands.
UK aircraft arrive on the British Virgin Islands. AP

The Turks and Caicos, another UK overseas territory, and the British Virgin Islands have been devastated by Irma, now wreaking havoc across mainland USA.

Mr Baker, whose daughter remains stranded on St Martin, said: "Nothing is happening.

"It seems that everybody can airlift their citizens out except for the UK who are doing absolutely nothing on the ground."

He added: "The British response has been absolutely pitiful, it's just sheer incompetence, callous disregard for our British citizens."

  • Priti Patel on 'swift' government response

Ms Patel, International Development minister, said the government's response to the disaster had been "swift".

She told ITV News that No 10 was working with local authorities on affected Caribbean islands "every single day".

"The British government has been swift in terms of our combined operation with the Foreign Office, the Ministry of Defence and also in getting the aid out to the British overseas territories," she said.

Ms Patel described claims the government could be doing more as "wrong".

And she also denied reports No 10 was carrying out PR exercises to embellish its aid effort.

"That is not accurate because the Foreign Office have a helpline, we have got people on the ground now in these countries and territories, helping British nationals," she said.

"But importantly, working with the governments there and the governors too."

The government has sent British troops to the affected islands.
The government has sent British troops to the affected islands.

Mr Johnson also leapt to the government's defence, saying the UK was facing "biggest consular crisis".

The Foreign Secretary said there had been an "unprecedented" effort to deal with the aftermath of the biggest storm in the region since records began.

Responding to Mr Baker, he argued that Saint Martin was controlled by the Dutch and French who had been evacuating people in accordance with their medical need.

Geoffrey Baker's daughter is stranded on St Martin.
Geoffrey Baker's daughter is stranded on St Martin.

"Some British nationals actually have been evacuated from Saint Martin," Mr Johnson said.

"This is a very big consular crisis and I am confident we are doing everything we possibly can to help British nationals."

He added: "It doesn't make any sense when a hurricane is impending to send in heavy aircraft or to send in ships that are not going to be capable themselves of withstanding the storm.

"The French had to ask us for assistance later on because we had got the right sort of kit there.

"If you look at what is happening now you can see an unprecedented British effort to deal with what has been an unprecedented catastrophe for the region."

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