Therese Coffey ridiculed for clean water claim as high E coli levels found in sea

"Is this what Therese Coffey means when she says our bathing waters have never been cleaner?”

Environment minister Therese Coffey made the claim back in February that, under the Tories, bathing water had in fact got cleaner.

This claim faced incredulity at the time, however recent evidence of extremely high levels of E coli at Sunderland’s Roker beach have further thrown Coffey’s statement into ridicule.

Speaking in Parliament, Coffey claimed: “What I’m keen to say is that we have already delivered, I’ve already shared about how bathing water has got much cleaner under this administration.”

It came as new data revealed how water companies in the UK were illegally discharging sewage into rivers and sea during the 2022 bathing season. Whilst over the past weekend, 57 athletes fell ill with diarrhoea and vomiting at a world triathlon event after swimming off the coast of Sunderland.

Three days before the event, an Environment Agency sampling at Roker beach found E coli levels were 39 times higher than typical readings the previous month, with 3,900 colonies per 100ml.

The campaign group Surfers Against Sewage highlighted the disparity between Coffeys comments and the reality of the waters in the UK.

The environmental activist group wrote: “This is a disgrace of monumental proportions… 57 swimmers got ill after competing in sewage last week.

“Is this what Therese Coffey means when she says our bathing waters have never been cleaner?”

Members of the public and social media users were quick to share the video of Coffey making the claim that her government had ‘delivered’ on cleaner bathing water.

X user Kathleen Tyson wrote: “This is basic to UK government today: narrative trumps objective reality. Coffey says water is cleaner / toxic Brexshit in waters”

Whilst another X user mused: “Wonder if she wants to repeat this in Sunderland.”

In the latest development of the UK sewage scandal, it was revealed today that the public could receive hundreds of millions of pounds in compensation, as a collective case against six water companies alleges a failure to properly report sewage spills and pollution in England and Wales.

Last week Coffey said Tories must show they care about the environment and emphasised that the party was still committed to net zero after the Prime Minster criticised ‘anti-motorist’ Labour and promised the Torys would ‘max out’ gas and oil reserves.

However, it seemd her words failed to resonate, as Alastair Campbell wrote: “I think that shit may have sailed Therese…”

It’s also hard to know, as minister for the environment, how Coffey’s recent order for Defra to cut ties to Greenpeace – an organisation who has spent over 50 years passionately defending the natural world – is championing the environment either.  

It came after activists climbed on to the roof of Rishi Sunak’s house when he was on holiday, to protest against new plans for oil and gas drilling in the North Sea. Will McCallum, the group’s UK co-executive director, said in response: “This isn’t about the government engaging with Greenpeace, it’s about them engaging with the world around them. The planet is on fire and Rishi Sunak is acting like nothing’s happening.”

(Photeo credit: Sky News / YouTube / Screenshot)

Hannah Davenport is news reporter at Left Foot Forward, focusing on trade unions and environmental issues

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