Will Britain’s beaches be clean after Brexit?

Jon Danzig |

With the pound dramatically lower as a direct result of Brexit, many more Britons are now holidaying at Britain’s seaside resorts. And it’s thanks to the EU that 95% of our beaches are now clean enough to wade out into the sea.

It wasn’t always like that.

Back in the 1970s, we used to pump our untreated sewage straight into the sea. It’s only because of EU laws that the UK was forced to clean up its act.

As reported by Friends of the Earth, who campaigned during the referendum for the UK to stay in the EU for the sake of our environment:

“The EU’s 1976 Bathing Water Directive – and successful legal action by the European Commission – has made our beaches as clean, clear and swimmable as they are today.

“But it wasn’t easy going…The UK fought hard to maintain the right to continue polluting.

“Successive UK governments exploited whatever loophole they could find. They pumped untreated sewage into our ocean until 1998 – longer than any other European country.

“Now, water quality at beaches is better than at any time in living memory, according to the Environment Agency.

“Some of the UK’s most beautiful and loved beaches are protected in this way: Watergate Bay in Cornwall, Druridge Bay in Northumberland, Croyde Beach in Devon and hundreds more which have reached good and excellent water-rating standards.”

Added the environmental pressure group:

“Staying in the EU delivers a win-win scenario of cleaner beaches and economic gain for sea-side economies.”

But, warns Friends of the Earth, not all of Britain’s beaches reach the crystal-clear standards that we have now come to expect. Only around 60% of UK bathing waters meet the new “Excellent” standard of the revised 2006 EU Bathing Water Directive.


It does not look hopeful.

After Brexit, the UK will no longer be subject to the EU’s Bathing Water Directive and Water Framework Directive.

With Brexit now on the immediate horizon, standards are already seriously slipping.

According to a major investigation by The Times this weekend, the government in recent years has allowed 86% of our rivers to fall short of the EU’s strict ecological standards.

The Times reported that dangerous pollutants in England’s waterways have reached their highest levels since modern testing began. The newspaper revealed that, “no river in the country is now certified as safe for swimmers.”

Last month, Southern Water was fined a record £127 million for “shocking” breaches that allowed raw sewage to be released into rivers and on to beaches.

England’s rivers are now among the most polluted in Europe.

Under EU rules, the government is supposed to ensure that all rivers are of good ecological standard by 2027. But according to the World Wildlife Fund, ministers are “not remotely on course” to achieve this target.

And if Britain is not in the EU, what incentive or legal duty will the government have to keep our waterways and beaches clean, especially if their past record is anything to go by?

Commented Friends of the Earth:

“Without external EU pressure it seems likely that standards will slip.”

Leaked documents during Theresa May’s premiership suggested that the Conservative government planned to “scale down” climate and environmental protection laws to secure post-Brexit trade deals. Does anyone think that under Boris Johnson our protection laws will be safe?

The bottom line? Brexit is a filthy business. It’s not too late to stop it, if that’s now what Britain wants.

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