The UK government has been accused of being too busy arguing about Europe instead of helping communities hit by flooding, after it emerged that it has only five days left to apply for a pot of at least £125m in EU funds to tackle natural disasters.
The Liberal Democrat leader, Tim Farron, whose constituency of Westmorland and Lonsdale was badly affected by December’s floods, said the government needed “to get its act together” before the 27 February deadline.
The European Union solidarity fund was set up to help member states cope with natural disasters following the severe floods in central Europe in 2002.
Farron said: “David Cameron has delivered an EU deal for his Conservative MPs, now he must deliver EU funding for those people whose lives were devastated by the recent floods.
“This money is there for the taking,” he said. “It would be an utter betrayal of flood victims in the north of England not to apply. The government must get its act together and secure this funding before it is too late.”
But to qualify, the government must apply within 12 weeks of when the natural disaster began. As Storm Desmond hit northern England on 5 December, the deadline to apply is Saturday 27 February.
During a visit to Brussels on Thursday, Farron presented a petition signed by 2,063 of his constituents to MEPs from the committee of the regions. The MEPs confirmed they would approve a grant as soon as they received an application from UK government.
The European commission has confirmed that the UK would be eligible for the grant but that no application had yet been made, despite the deadline being five days away.
In 2008, the UK received £134m from the fund to help deal with the aftermath of major floods the previous year.
The EU solidarity fund has given more than €3.7bn (£2.9bn) to help member states deal with some 70 disasters, including floods, forest fires, earthquakes, storms and drought.
A government source said they had not ruled out applying to the EU solidarity fund but the fund was limited in the support it could provide. The source argued that money from the fund would not provide financial support for the majority of homes or businesses, as it does not compensate for private losses, and that the grant would take several months to come through.
A Department for Communities and Local Government spokesman said: “We are committed to supporting communities hit by the recent flooding. We have opened the Bellwin scheme for local authorities, with 100% of eligible costs to be met by the government, and our investment in recovery from Storm Eva and Storm Desmond now stands at nearly £200m.
“This will help people directly affected by the floods, support homeowners protect their properties and ensure flood-affected businesses that have had their trading disrupted can get back on their feet,” he said.