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Shitstorm: French kick up a stink over UK sewage dumped in the English Channel

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LONDON — France has held its nose on many occasions when it comes to dealing with the U.K., but perhaps never quite so literally.

French MEPs have accused the U.K. of neglecting environmental commitments by allowing raw sewage to be dumped in the Channel and North Sea.

The action threatens health and marine life on the French coast, the politicians claimed in a letter calling for legal or political action from the European Commission.

The MEPs from President Emmanuel Macron’s party warn that in the short term, the leaks could damage bathing waters on the French coast and harm marine biodiversity, fishing and shellfish farming.

“The Channel and the North Sea are not dumping grounds,” said Stéphanie Yon-Courtin, who sits on the European Parliament’s fisheries committee.

The MEPs’ intervention opens an international dimension to what has been a fierce domestic row within the U.K. this summer, with pollution warnings issued for almost 50 beaches in England and Wales after heavy rain caused sewage overflow to be diverted from overloaded drains into rivers and the sea.

Britain’s privatized water industry has been blamed by campaigners for allowing the spills, while Conservative politicians have been inundated with angry correspondence after campaign material from opposition parties claimed the Tories “voted for” foul matter to be dumped in the country’s waters.

In the U.K., wastewater from toilets is carried to sewage treatment works through the same aged Victorian pipes as rainwater | Jack Taylor/Getty Images

The contention is not quite accurate — although Tory MPs did vote to block a specific amendment to the recent Environment Act placing tougher requirements on water firms — but it has created a bad smell in Westminster, which has lingered for more than a week.

In the U.K., wastewater from toilets is carried to sewage treatment works through the same aged Victorian pipes as rainwater. The system is designed to occasionally overflow and discharge untreated sewage, an issue that has occurred recently because of an increased risk of storm-flooding following unusually dry weather.

A spokesperson for the U.K.’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said it was untrue that Britain was not upholding high standards. “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,” they said.

Opposition MPs have been making hay, however. Liberal Democrats have accused ministers of “ignoring the country’s outrage at this scandal,” while the Labour Party claimed Britain’s “water infrastructure is at bursting point, with billions of liters of water being wasted every day and raw sewage being dumped into our waters.”

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