Rishi Sunak will lose “dozens of seats” at the next general election if he fails to stop sewage being pumped into rivers, the Liberal Democrat leader has warned.
Sir Ed Davey stressed there needs to be greater action from the Conservative government on “one of the biggest environmental crimes in our country”.
Speaking at his party’s spring conference in York, he said people want a “healthy natural environment” and an end to water companies “getting away” with dumping sewage into our rivers.
Water companies are only permitted to release sewage during periods of heavy rain so the system does not back up and pump sewage into people’s homes.
However, campaigners last year warned firms released raw sewage into UK rivers and seas almost 150 times during dry weather in a 12-month period.
Surfers Against Sewage recently issued more than 80 sewage pollution alerts for beaches across the UK with members of the public told to avoid visiting.
Izzy Ross, Campaigns Manager at SAS, told NationalWorld it is “horrific that our waterways pay the price, whilst water companies profit from pollution.”
In October 2021, 265 MPs voted with the government to reject an attempt by the House of Lords to toughen up the approach to the discharge of sewage. Tory MPs who voted against the Environment Bill, which would have placed legal duties on companies to reduce discharges, defended themselves after they received accusations they had given the green light to water companies to dump raw sewage in rivers.
An underwater filmmaker at Beneath British Waters Mark Barrow said the sewage leaks have been caused "due to major decisions of stupidity and corporate greed”.
‘A Government that’s run out of ideas and has nothing left to offer’
In a message to Tory MPs, Sir Ed said: “People want a clean, healthy natural environment. They want an end to the Conservatives letting water companies get away with pumping filthy sewage straight into our rivers.
“That is one of the biggest environmental crimes in our country today and it’s a crime that will cost the Conservatives dozens of seats if they don’t act.”
Government plans released last month outlined how water companies in England will be required to explain why sewage spillages into rivers and seas are happening and what is being done to fix them.
Ministers are also consulting on making it easier and quicker to slap polluting companies with penalties - making them pay immediately rather than wait for lengthy criminal prosecutions to conclude.
Sir Ed has previously criticised Sunak’s “total lack of ambition” to solve people’s problems and said the government must be “put out of its misery”.
He said: “Take economic growth. Remember when governments used to talk about targeting three, four, five per cent? Rishi Sunak’s target – anything above zero.
“It’s like a mid-table football club with a new manager, targeting to avoid relegation rather than a place in the Champions League. Jeremy Hunt in his Budget on Wednesday, proudly boasting not that the economy is growing, but that it might just avoid a technical recession after all. Total defeatism from a government that’s run out of ideas and has nothing left to offer.”
He added: “The way Conservative MPs talk nowadays, it’s like they know the truth: their government needs to be put out of its misery.”
He compared Tory MPs to “mutinous pirates” as Britain encountered choppy waters, telling Lib Dem members: “We needed Hornblower. They gave us Pugwash.”
Sir Ed went on to say Labour’s ambitions are “hardly much higher”, adding: “Their only goal seems to be ‘not as bad as the Conservatives’. Talk about a low bar.”