EU takes aim at UK- sewage dumping could BREAK Brexit pact

Sewage pollution incident wipes out fish in River Ray

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The EU executive body told MEPs from the European Parliament’s fisheries committee today the situation was being closely monitored and expressed their “deep concern” over the issue. They warned the pollution of the UK’s coastal waters may breach commitments taken on either side of the channel not to weaken environmental standards.

A senior official said: “We express our deep concern about these uncontrolled discharges and their potential impacts on the marine environment and on fisheries. Sewage discharges without appropriate treatment can have complex negative impacts on fish affecting their growth, their behaviour and their survival.

“Waste water pollution can also threaten human health through the consumption of contaminated seafood.”

Britain has already been accused of using the Channel as a “dumping ground” by French MEPs. As a result of Brexit, the UK is no longer bound by EU environmental standards – but the Commission official highlighted that the UK had agreed “not to back down from the levels of environmental protection in place”.

The official clarified that Britain had signed up to “non-regression from the environmental levels of protection applicable” as part of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA).

A summer of consistently hot temperatures and drought has left the ground unable to absorb heavy rainfall, leaving rivers and seas prone to flooding. Water treatment facilities in the UK are allowed to discharge raw sewage into seas and rivers in such an event, leading to the dumping of raw sewage nearly doubling in recent years – partly as a result of heavy cuts to the UK’s Environment Agency.

The Government has issued pollution warnings across more than 40 beaches and swimming spots, with the south-west and south coast of England worst affected. However, it has denied it is in breach of its agreements with the EU.

There is currently a plan in place to improve the dumping of raw sewage – the Storm Overflows Discharge Reduction Plan. According to the BBC’s Brussels correspondent Jessica Parker, the European Commission does “welcome” the proposals, but added the proposed timelines are “very long”.

The plan, published by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, states: “From 2025, the targets outlined in this plan are expected to lead to an 80 percent reduction in the number of annual discharges from storm overflows by 2050, which is an anticipated reduction of over 300,000 storm overflow discharges per year.”

Last week three French EU lawmakers, all members of Emmenual Macron’s party, wrote a letter to the Commission, urging it to take legal action as they claimed the sewage dumping was killing fish and damaging the marine environment.

Pierre Karleskind, the chairman of the EU Parliament’s fisheries committee, who was one of the three MEPs, said there was “an alarm bell ringing”.

“We are directly and immediately concerned by the releasing of untreated sewage into the seas. I know our British neighbours aren’t particularly happy with it either,” he said. Public pressure in the UK is growing for the Government to take action to prevent the privatised water companies from dumping sewage.

A spokesperson for the UK’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said the allegation was not true.

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They added: “The Environment Act has made our laws even stronger on water quality than when we were in the EU, from targets to tackle nutrient pollution to new powers to tackle harmful substances in our waters. We have also made it law for water companies to reduce the frequency and volume of discharges from storm overflows and made it law for water companies to install new monitors to report in real time any sewage discharges in their area.”

MEPs have recently debated a draft regulation which would uphold the EU’s rights under both the Withdrawal Agreement and the TCA. This bill would include giving the EU the ability to suspend parts of the deal and impose sanctions, and is expected to be adopted by the end of the year.

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