British aid presence 'ratcheting up' in hurricane-hit Caribbean - Johnson

Updated: 

The British military presence is "really ratcheting up" in the Caribbean with more troops being sent to help communities devastated by Hurricane Irma, the Foreign Secretary has announced.

In his first interview since it was revealed he would be travelling to the region, Boris Johnson said his visit is a "very important statement" by the Government to show it is "here for UK nationals" and is a "sign of our absolute commitment to them".

Speaking to the Press Association on board a Virgin Atlantic flight as he headed towards the British territories ravaged by the storm, Mr Johnson said: "The military presence is really ratcheting up now.

"Yesterday 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."

Hundreds of UK troops and 50 police officers have already been sent to the British Virgin Islands after they were battered by the most powerful storm ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean.

Recovery and aid efforts are under way to help those trying to piece together their lives from the ruins of the weather front, which has since been downgraded from a hurricane.

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.

The Government had faced claims that 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 catastrophe in the Caribbean.

Mr Johnson told the Press Association the hurricane has been "an unprecedented event, an unprecedented catastrophe" for the people who live in the part of the Caribbean which has been worst hit.

"What they're seeing is an unprecedented UK response, but I want to stress it is not just for the short term, we are going to be there for the long term as well," he added.

Pressed on how he thinks he will be received during the visit by those affected, Mr Johnson said: "Most fair-minded people have said that the UK responded extremely fast and extremely well.

"We had 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."

When asked what he hopes to gain from the trip, he said it is "very, very important people at home understand the savagery of the storm that has hit communities that are British".

"But I think what I have been amazed by so far, is not so much the impact of the storm, as the resilience and community spirit of those people - coming together to put their islands back on their feet and we are here to help," he added.