Flooded communities could be in for a multi-million pound windfall after the Government finally agrees to apply to the EU for funding.
Up to £125m could be available for the North of England and Scotland after Northern Powerhouse minister James Wharton performed a U-turn on asking Europe for help.
With just three days to go until the deadline passes for applications to the EU Solidarity Fund, Mr Wharton told MPs the Government is now filling out the paper work.
However the move caused some embarrassment for the minister, who within three days of announcing he was backing Brexit must now return to the EU to ask for crisis funding.
Responding to an urgent question in the House of Commons tabled by Labour MP for Stockton North Alex Cunningham, Mr Wharton said: “The UK Government will make an application to the European Union Solidarity Fund.
“The Government has been working on this application for some time.”
He said it could be used for compensation to communities but warned money could take months for it to appear.
Explaining delays, he claimed Scotland had been slow in providing the necessary information and they had been weighing up whether the EUSF would lead to a net benefit for the tax-payer due to the cost of administering and delivering the fund.
Labour MP Holly Lynch welcomed Mr Wharton’s announcement.
She said: “It’s really great news that they are going to apply for this funding, it’s one of the benefits of membership of the EU. I think delays have been because of the Government’s nervous relationship with the EU at the moment. However this is money will go a long way towards helping rebuild Calderdale.
“We are all a bit baffled about why it’s taken the Government so long. This is a U-turn as the Prime Minister ruled this out and James Wharton indicated for the first time recently that the Government were thinking about, and it’s taken an urgent question from the Labour Party three days before the deadline to get clear clarification.
Mr Cunningham said the Government’s failure to apply for the fund would have set people back from getting their lives back on track across the North of England.
The UK has paid £300m into it since it was set up in 2002, however the British Government has only once drawn on the money available to cope with the aftermath of the 2007 Oxfordshire floods.
Accountancy firm KPMG has estimated the total cost of the flood damage at £5bn, which means that the UK could be eligible for up to £125 million of, of which 10% would be made available immediately.
Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron, whose Cumbrian constituency of Westmorland and Lonsdale was severely affected by this winter’s floods, said: “It is an utter farce that it took the government until the eleventh hour, when we were about to lose this vital cash, for them to finally decide to send a letter and ask for the £125 million.
“Having to drag James Wharton, the Brexiter, to the Commons to announce that the government will apply for EU funding, and that it will really make a difference to our communities, was a nice final touch of irony.”
However one Conservative MP said the fund wasn’t worth applying to.
Ian Liddell-Grainger, Tory MP for Bridgwater and West Somerset, said: “In 2011 we suffered disastrous floods in Somerset. We looked at this fund very closely indeed, the Prime Minister and my local area.
“We made the decision it was not going to be applied for at that time because it was too complicated, too difficult and the benefit to the communities wasn’t going to be there.”
The announcement comes as RSA Insurance said the damage caused by a series of storms that raged across the UK in December 2015 has cost it £76 million.