Environment

Senior Tory Damian Green says swimming in sewage ain’t what it used to be, to the absolute horror of viewers

“Swimming in sewage is very hazardous and not something to be condoned or accepted” said Mark Lloyd, chief executive of The Rivers Trust

Damian Green Peston sewage

Damian Green left presenters baffled as he admitted to swimming in sewae as a child. Image: Screenshot from Peston on ITV

Swimming in sewage just isn’t what it used to be, a senior Tory politician told baffled presenters on ITV. If the online reaction is anything to go by, they aren’t the only ones.

“I remember as a child in south Wales, swimming in sewage,” MP Damian Green told presenter Anushka Asthana on ITV’s Peston politics programme, while discussing the key issues of voters in the recent local elections such as water companies pumping record amounts of sewage into the UK’s rivers and coastline. 

“It was sort of regarded as acceptable”, he continued, before hastily adding,” but of course it wasn’t acceptable.”

While the Conservative MP said he was “not denying that it’s a big issue”, he described memories of swimming in “Jackson’s Bay, in Barry, [which] used to be a sewage outlet where we all went and paddled and swam”.

Viewers and social media users were quick to argue that many things used to be acceptable and now aren’t.

Opposition MPs, unsurprisingly, have had a field day.

“The @Conservatives in 2023. Trying to normalise swimming in human excrement,” wrote Shadow Foreign Secretary David Lammy. “We desperately need to get rid of this rotten government.”

“When I was a lad we used to swim in proper good old fashioned British sh1t [sic] and it didn’t do us any harm. 🤷🏼‍♂️” wrote East Hull’s Labour MP Karl Turner.

https://twitter.com/KarlTurnerMP/status/1659089568077938689

“I mean back in the day doctors used to prescribe their patients smoking on the grounds of it being beneficial for their health, is he going to suggest we go back to that because views on it were more positive back then?” wrote a Twitter user Chris, @Chelseachemist1.

“They also had lead paint and asbestos roofs. What an absurd argument!!!” added Twitter user Yoav Segal. 

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Many also highlighted that Green, who is 67, would have taken his dirty dips over 50 years ago, when there were far fewer environmental regulations, some of which are as a result of Britain’s past membership of the EU.

Green voted to remain in the EU in the Brexit referendum and was de-facto deputy prime minister in Theresa May’s government trying to squeeze out a Brexit deal before he was forced to resign over harassment and pornography allegations.

“When you fondly recall swimming in sewage as a child, was that *before* we entered the common market then formation of the EU which brought in strict water & beach standards? Given you were born in 1956, I’m going to hazard a ‘yes’.” wrote Dr Mike Galsworthy, chair of European Movement UK. 

Mark Lloyd, chief executive of The Rivers Trust told The Big Issue: “Swimming in sewage is very hazardous and not something to be condoned or accepted.

“Poorly planned developments, weak regulation, climate change and ageing sewerage infrastructure have all conspired to make this all too frequent an experience for millions of water users.  We need to explore innovative and integrated solutions to tackle this major issue, rather than accept that it is part of life.”

Green’s comments come as English water companies formally apologised for allowing raw sewage to be dumped  around the British coastline, but said that the cost of water bills will increase to pay for the clean up. 

While the use of overflows is meant to be occasional, data shows this is not the case. Raw sewage was pumped into rivers and seas for 1.75 million hours last year – on average 825 times per day last year, according to Environment Agency data. 

Ruth Kelly, chair of Water UK, said: “More should have been done to address the issue of spillages sooner and the public is right to be upset about the current quality of our rivers and beaches.

“We have listened and have an unprecedented plan to start to put it right. This problem cannot be fixed overnight, but we are determined to do everything we can to transform our rivers and seas in the way we all want to see.”

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Barry Island Beach, around the corner to Jackson’s Bay where senior Tory Mp Damian Green went for some dirty dips in his childhood. Image: Steve Knight / flickr

Jackson’s Bay on Barry island, where Green recalls childhood swims, is a sandy cove slightly east of the famous Barry Island Beach. Data from Natural Resources Wales ranks the water quality as one out of three stars, or “sufficient”. It was downgraded from two stars, “good”, in 2019. 

“Obviously I’m a little younger than Damian, but the closest I ever went to swimming in sewage was on the log flume in Barry Island,” said James Hitchings-Hales, who works in communications and described himself as a “devout Welshman”. 

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