18 May, 2018
Italy, Hungary and Romania will face the court over breaching particulate matter standards.
The commission said that Britain had broken limits for nitrogen dioxide, largely produced by diesel vehicles, and had failed to provide "credible, effective and timely" plans to cut pollution.
'It is my conviction that today's decision will lead to improvements for citizens on a much quicker timescale'.
The European Commission is taking the British Government to court for breaching EU air quality rules. The European Environment Agency said in October 2017 that fine particulate matter causes more than 400,000 premature deaths in the EU annually.
ClientEarth, the environmental group which has taken three successful court cases against the United Kingdom government over air pollution regulations, was quick to applaud the EC announcement. "[Environment secretary] Michael Gove should swiftly come up with a clear plan to tackle the diesel vehicles responsible for most roadside toxic pollution and an outright ban on the sale of petrol, diesel cars and vans from 2030". "We have said that this commission is one that protects".
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Mr Vella said: "The decision to refer Member States to the Court of Justice of the EU has been taken on behalf of Europeans". But legal action alone will not solve the problem.
The UK has promised a comprehensive air pollution package shortly.
EU law obliges member states, in accordance with the EU Ambient Air Quality Directive, to maintain air quality standards and limit values for PM10, which may not exceed an annual average of 40 µg/m3 and 50 µg/m3 per day. But ministers refused to make them compulsory, instead making them a voluntary and last-resort option for local authorities.
European Union judges in Luxembourg will be able to hit Britain with huge fines under the bloc' "infringement proceedings".
The Frenchman said there could be no reduction in environmental standards after Brexit as Britain could otherwise seek a "competitive advantage" over its neighbours.
The four countries now have two months to reply before further infringement action will be taken.