UK should divert foreign aid to flood victims, anti-EU leader says

Posted at 02/10/14 12:07 AM

LONDON - The leader of Britain's eurosceptic UK Independence Party Nigel Farage urged the government Sunday to redirect part of its foreign aid budget towards flood victims at home.

Speaking on a visit to the flood-hit county of Somerset, Farage complained that Britain gives aid to India despite the fact that New Delhi has its own space programme.

"It seems to me that the aid budget is about us giving charity overseas. When you've got an emergency in this country, it's time to say that charity begins at home," he told Sky News.

"The international aid budget is £11 billion ($18 billion, 13 billion euros) a year. All the government have offered so far is less than one percent of that in the form of £100 million -- if suddenly that was five percent or six percent you'd be talking real money."

Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservative-led coalition government in fact allocated £130 million last week in emergency relief after weeks of storms and flooding.

Cameron ring-fenced 0.7 percent of the national budget for foreign aid when he took office in 2010, despite making widespread cuts in other government departments to tame a record deficit.

Farage, a member of the European parliament, added: "What are we doing giving £300 million a year to India who've got a space programme, aircraft carriers... So there's a very strong argument that says: spend the money here."

The UKIP leader, visiting Somerset two days after Cameron, also compared the government's handling of the floods to its response last November to Typhoon Haiyan, which killed 8,000 people in the Philippines.

"It's funny isn't it, when there are disasters overseas, and I accept that the Philippines is worse than what's happening here, the British are very quick to send money and to send people," Farage said.

"And it feels to the people living here that we have a serious problem here and no one does anything and no one cares."

Farage's anti-EU, anti-immigration UK Independence Party poses a growing threat to the centre-right Conservatives ahead of European parliament elections in May and Britain's general election next year.

Meanwhile the minister leading the response to the floods, Communities Secretary Eric Pickles, admitted the government had made a "mistake" in its handling of the crisis.

Pickles said the government should have dredged rivers to prevent flooding, as local residents demanded months ago.

"We made a mistake, there's no doubt about that and we perhaps relied too much on the Environment Agency's advice," Pickles told the BBC.

The head of the Environment Agency, Chris Smith, has rejected calls to resign over the crisis.

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