EU gives British environment minister dressing-down over toxic air pollution


A Government minister has received an in-person dressing down from Brussels over the UK repeatedly breaking the law by failing to crack down on deadly air pollution.

The UK was one of nine polluting countries summoned to the EU capital on Tuesday to explain to commissioners why they had continued to let unsafe levels of pollution strangle their cities.

Recent studies have found that around 40,000 early deaths are caused by air pollution in Britain every year, with some streets reliably breaching their annual pollution limit every year in the first few days of January.

“The deadlines for meeting the legal obligations have long elapsed, and some say we have waited already too long, but we can delay no more, and I have made this very clear to ministers this morning,” EU environment commissioner Karmenu Vella said at a press conference in Brussels.

Speaking following the meeting with the environment ministers, Mr Vella said plans presented by the countries to fix the problems were not good enough. He gave them a week-long extension to come back with better plans.

“In our exchange, there were some positive suggestions, but I have to say that at first sight, these were not substantial enough to change the bigger picture,” Mr Vella said.

Other countries at the meeting, which was attended by junior minister Therese Coffey instead of Environment Secretary Michael Gove, included France and Germany.

A report by the UK’s own National Audit Office published in November last year found that under current policy, the UK would only meet EU environment targets on dangerous fine particulate matter by 2021, 10 years behind schedule.

The UK’s plans to combat air pollution have repeatedly been declared illegal by British courts because they go soft on polluters. The Government published an action plan for tackling nitrogen dioxide, the pollutant it is failing on, in July 2017. The Government has provided £255m to councils to tackle the issue.

A Defra spokesperson said: “Air pollution has improved significantly since 2010, but we recognise there is more to do, which is why we have put in place a £3.5bn plan to improve air quality and reduce harmful emissions.

“We are at the forefront of calls for the EU to introduce Real Driving Emissions testing, which is essential in meeting our air quality goals, the first stage of which came in for new models of vehicles in September 2017. We continue to actively engage at a European and international level to tackle air pollution.”


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