Michael Gove has dismissed reports that the UK will run out of drinking water if there is no Brexit deal because insufficient quantities of chemicals have been stockpiled to treat it.
The secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs told MPs yesterday (28 November) that he is not kept awake by the prospect of the UK facing a shortage of the chemicals required in the water purification process.
The Mail on Sunday reported last weekend that “Operation Yellowhammer”, which sets out contingency plans for how the UK could cope with a “no deal” Brexit, had raised concerns in Whitehall about the UK’s reliance on Continental European manufacturers for such supplies.
Tap water contains a number of chemicals such as liquefied chlorine, sodium silicofluoride, aluminium sulphate, fluorosilicic acid and calcium hydroxide.
These include coagulants to take heavy metals out of water that might be dangerous for women and children.
However Gove told the Commons’ environment, food and rural affairs committee yesterday that the government had taken action to deal with inadequate supplies of the chemicals that the water industry needs.
He said the majority of chemicals that the UK imports from the EU to purify its water comes in via Immingham, which is less likely to be less congested than the Channel ports if the UK leaves without a deal next March.
And Gove said that while water companies have become used to sourcing chemicals on a just-in-time basis, many can be stored for prolonged periods and others manufactured in the UK.
He said: “We have talked to water companies and the regulator to ensure that adequate supplies are available if we leave without a deal.
“We are taking steps so that it will be the case that our water will be completely safe.
“There was a potential danger but action is being taken and has been taken by water companies now in order to ensure that eventuality does not arrive.
“We looked at what might happen in reasonable worst-case scenario and taken steps to mitigate it.”
And while failing to guarantee that there will be enough storage for chlorine gas, he said: “I will do everything I can. I will guarantee that drinking water in this country will be absolutely safe.”