The Queen and Prime Minister Theresa May have both sent messages of sympathy to people affected by Hurricane Irma. However, the UK government has been criticised for being slow to send practical help, and for failing to move resources into the area in advance.
Former UN under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs Baroness Amos said many people felt the UK did not respond quickly enough when it became obvious that disaster was about to strike.
That view was emphasised by Dorothea Hodge, a former UK EU representative for the government of Anguilla. Hodge told the Guardian: “It’s absolutely disgraceful that it has taken the whole day for [international development secretary] Priti Patel to respond to the worst hurricane we have seen in a British territory since the 1920s.”
Hodge added that, in comparison with the French response, Patel’s reaction was “pathetic”. Josephine Gumbs-Conner, a barrister from Anguilla, told the BBC that the UK’s preparations for, and response to, the storm had been “sorely lacking”.
Like Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Montserrat and Turks & Caicos, Anguilla is a British Overseas Territory (BOT), whose residents are British citizens. Unlike the French and Dutch Caribbean islands, the BOTs are not protected by permanent military bases. Theresa May said in her statement, released today:
“No one can fail to be affected by the absolute desperate plight of people in the Caribbean who have been hit by Hurricane Irma. My thoughts and prayers are with all of those affected, particularly with the British nationals in our Overseas Territories of Anguilla and the British Virgin Islands…
“We have taken action, we have moved swiftly. We have people on the ground, £32 million has been released. The Royal Fleet Auxiliary ship RFA Mounts Bay is in position, providing assistance from Royal Marines and Army engineers and a military task group is on its way on HMS Ocean with several hundred UK troops.”
Although RFA Mounts Bay is in the region, HMS Ocean is not expected to arrive in the Caribbean for at least two weeks.
The Queen said in a message to the Governor-General of Antigua and Barbuda: “Our thoughts and prayers are with all those whose homes and livelihoods have been destroyed or adversely affected by this terrible storm.”
Considerable resources, both physical and financial, are going to be needed in the coming months for providing sanitation and healthcare, clearing roads, rebuilding homes, repairing critical infrastructure and restoring the economies of these tourism-dependent islands.