The massive dumping of raw sewage into the English Channel by the UK could break the post-Brexit trade deal with the EU, the European Commission told MEPs on Thursday (1 September).
Speaking to the European Parliament’s fisheries committee on Thursday, a European Commission official said the EU leadership is closely monitoring the situation.
“We express our deep concern about these uncontrolled discharges and their potential impact on the marine environment and on fisheries”said an official from the European Commission.
The UK is no longer required to meet EU environmental standards since leaving the Union, but they have accepted “do not go back to the current environmental protection levels”she said.
The trade and cooperation agreement includes an obligation not to go back on standards regarding the protection and preservation of the marine environment, she added. The agreement also requires the UK not to undermine or reduce the level of environmental protection.
Water treatment plants in the UK are permitted to discharge raw sewage into seas and rivers if they are submerged by heavy rain and pose a risk of flooding. After a summer characterized by unusually high temperatures and drought, the soil could not absorb the recent heavy rainfall.
The discharge of raw sewage has more than doubled in recent years following major cuts to the UK Environment Agency’s budget.
The British government has issued pollution warnings for dozens of beaches on England’s south coast and warned people against swimming in the sea, but has refused to break deals with the EU.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said that since Britain left the EU, it has passed laws requiring water companies to reduce the frequency and amount of discharges from storm drains and install new monitors to immediately report any sewage discharge in their area.
Last week, three French MEPs wrote a letter asking the Commission to take legal or political action against the UK. According to them, the discharge of sewage actually causes the death of fish and harms the marine environment.
Pierre Karleskind, chairman of the European Parliament’s fisheries committee, one of the signatories, said that the situation was “alarming”.
“We are directly and immediately concerned about the discharge of polluted waste water into the oceans. I know our British neighbors aren’t too happy about it either.”, he declared. In Britain, public pressure is mounting for the government to take action to prevent privatized water companies from discharging waste water.
MEPs earlier this week debated a draft regulation aimed at upholding the EU’s rights under the Withdrawal Agreement and the Trade and Cooperation Agreement, which now governs trade between the EU and the UK. The bill, which would include mechanisms to suspend parts of the agreement and impose sanctions, is expected to be passed before the end of the year.