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Britain ups aid for storm-hit Caribbean, but Brexit fears loom

© MOD/AFP/File | Nine people were killed in the British territories in the hurricane out of a total of at least 50 dead in the region

LONDON (AFP) - 

Britain on Wednesday announced an extra £25 million ($33.2 million, 27.2 million euros) in aid for its Caribbean territories devastated by Hurricane Irma, but lawmakers warned reconstruction efforts could be hampered by Brexit.

The self-governing territories of Anguilla and the British Virgin Islands were hard hit by the mega-storm that swept through the region last week, and London is deploying more than 1,200 troops to help deliver aid and restore order.

"Today I'm announcing an additional £25 million to support the recovery effort, further to the £32 million of assistance I announced last week," Prime Minister Theresa May told the House of Commons.

She rejected claims her government had been too slow to act, and noted that more than 1,000 British military personnel are now in the region, with another 200 due to arrive within days, along with more than 60 police officers.

"The devastation that has taken place means there will be a significant need for reconstruction," she added.

"We will be working with our overseas territories to ensure we are able to see those countries actually brought to life once again, and people able to have an economy and a good life there."

During a visit to the British Virgin Islands and Anguilla, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson pledged "our absolute commitment" to Britons there.

"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 told the Press Association news agency.

In a letter to Brexit Secretary David Davis published Wednesday, however, a House of Lords committee warned the government it must consider how Brexit might affect the long-term sustainability of the territories.

They "will now face a particularly acute need to access significant reconstruction funds following the devastation inflicted by Hurricane Irma", the committee said.

It noted many of them do not qualify for British development aid, instead relying on funds from the European Union to build schools and roads, and maintain their environments -- funds which could dry up with Brexit.

- 'Cover the loss' -

"Some of the islands devastated by Hurricane Irma rely heavily on EU money through the European Development Fund to support their infrastructural development," said acting committee chairman Lord Michael Jay.

"We heard that 36 percent of Anguilla's capital budget comes from EDF funding ?- that will be needed more now than ever."

He urged ministers to consider making contributions to the EU budget after Brexit to maintain this funding.

"If the Overseas Territories can no longer access EU funding the government will need to think seriously about how that loss is covered," the peer said.

Nine people were killed in the British territories in the hurricane out of a total of at least 50 dead in the region.

The chief minister of Anguilla, Victor Banks, told the Press Association that the bill to repair his island's infrastructure alone could reach £1 billion.

© 2017 AFP