UK taken to Europe's highest court over excessive pollution
The European Commission is dragging the UK along with Germany, France, Italy, Romania and Hungary before its highest court for breaching legal limits on levels of pollution and for failing to meet the caps set by Brussels on emissions of nitrogen dioxide.
The court could impose multi-million euro fines on the countries if they fail to address their errant ways quickly, after issuing a final warning to their governments in January of 2018.
Although the volumes of Britain's nitrogen dioxide emissions first exceeded the legally allowed caps in 2010, Brussels only started legal proceedings against them in 2015.
However, on this occasion the renewed pressure from the European Union appeared to succeed in prompting a reaction from Britain's officialdom, in order to avoid the hefty fines, with officials vowing to implement a new package of measures to tackle air pollution shortly.
A spokesman for the UK environment department said: "We continue to meet EU air quality limits for all pollutants apart from NO2, and data shows we are improving thanks to our efforts to bring levels of NO2 down. We will shortly build on our £3.5bn plan to tackle roadside emissions with a comprehensive clean air strategy."
According to the EC, its main concern is the health of EU citizens, adding that at least 400,000 people die prematurely each year as a result of air pollution.
Green MEP Keith Taylor said of the EU’s decision: "The Commission is being forced to take legal action against the UK because the government remains steadfastly apathetic in the face of a public health crisis that is linked to the deaths of 50,000 British citizens every year.
"Post-Brexit, this is exactly the kind of scrutiny and oversight the Tories plan to escape. Proposals for a so-called environment watchdog that is nothing but a lame lapdog without the legal teeth to take the government to court put this reality in sharp relief."
"This is particularly concerning as legal action by the Commission and environmental lawyers, on the basis of EU law, has been the only way to force the UK government to take any action on air pollution at all."
The UK Environment Secretary Michael Gove promised last week that the environment would remain a priority post-Brexit, although the appointed watchdog will not have the same powers as the EC to take the government to task.
It remains unclear until when the UK will remain under the European Commission's jurisdiction after Brexit.