UK sewage spills into Channel could be breaching Brexit deal, says European Commission

British water treatment facilities temporarily discharge raw sewage into seas and rivers if they are inundated by heavy rainfall and risk flooding.

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Sewage spills in the English Channel could be breaching the UK’s Brexit trade agreement deal the European Commission has said.

Earlier this week, French European lawmakers urged the European Union's executive to take measures to end British discharges of raw sewage into shared waters, part of what they say is an unacceptable lowering of environmental standards since Brexit.

The three leading French members of the European Parliament said in a letter to EU Environment Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevicius dated Wednesday that they feared harm to marine biodiversity and activities of the fish and shellfish sector.

British water treatment facilities temporarily discharge raw sewage into seas and rivers if they are inundated by heavy rainfall and risk flooding.

Environmental campaigners say such discharges are becoming more common.

England and Wales regulator Ofwat and the British government's Environment Agency have launched investigations over the past year into several water companies that admitted they might be making unpermitted sewage discharges.

A general view of sewage being discharged into the sea, in Seaford, East Sussex, Britain.
A general view of sewage being discharged into the sea, in Seaford, East Sussex, Britain.

Now, Brussels has shared its “deep concern” over the discharges, saying it could cause seafood to be contaminated.

The commission claimed pollution of coastal waters could potentially breach commitments made on both sides that they would not weaken environmental standards.

There are fears that it could lead to another Brexit row.

Speaking this morning, the Commission told EU Parliament: “We express our deep concern regarding these uncontrolled discharges and their possible effects 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.”

“The Commission will continue monitoring the situation closely to assess first of all whether it amounts to a regression within the meaning of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement.

“And secondly but certainly not less importantly, whether there have been any harmful impacts on the EU territory.”

They added that Britain was signed up to “non-regression from the environmental levels of protection applicable” after leaving the bloc on New Year’s Eve 2020.

There are fears that it could lead to another Brexit row.
There are fears that it could lead to another Brexit row.

Chairman of the European Union Parliament’s fisheries committee, Pierre Karleskind, said: “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,”

“We are very concerned about the quality of the waters in the Channel. We thought that 2021 was a low point. We want to protect our environment. The sea should be protected.”