The UK’s airport decision is still up in the air. There was great excitement on Monday when it was revealed that Theresa May was minded to approve the expansion of Heathrow Airport next week. Mrs May is understood to see the project as an opportunity to demonstrate that Britain is not closing itself off from the world by leaving the EU.
“Business will be delighted” said one Official. “Though perhaps not if they live in south-west London.” A senior Treasury figure also said the Heathrow third runway was expected to get the go-ahead.
The excitement, however, was quickly dissipated when it became clear it could be up to 18 months before Parliament confirms the decision, to allow time for further debate.
Mrs May has now indicated to a sub-committee of ministers that she will reach a decision by the end of this month. However, that panel does not include the likes of Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who once said he would lie down in front of bulldozers to prevent expansion of Heathrow.
To resolve the discord, May has broken with convention and, in a letter to the Cabinet, said she would free colleagues from their usual obligation to back the Government’s official policy position. This has been seen as a move that “paves the way” for backing Heathrow. Mrs May said in her letter that “Cabinet ministers with longstanding opposition to the chosen option could dissent publicly as long as they do not campaign against the Government or speak against it in parliament“. The letter also suggested Parliament would not get a vote until next year, when “a national policy statement needed for planning purposes is put before parliament“.
The further delay on the decision has not been well received by some. Sadiq Khan has blasted the Prime Minister for her ‘dither and delay‘. The Mayor of London said the timetable meant “unnecessary uncertainty” for investors. He added: “The Government’s decision to delay yet again deciding where to build a new runway will cause unnecessary uncertainty for British businesses already struggling with Brexit.”
The Government strongly denied there was any delay, pointing out that the intricate process leading to a decision was first announced by Cabinet minister Patrick McLoughlin in February — although the former Transport Secretary did not explain at the time how long it would take overall.
The Liberal Democrats said that Mrs May was “kicking the can down the road” while the Institute of Economic Affairs think tank said that “yet another delay in airport expansion is a severe blow for our struggling aviation industry, business and consumers”. The GMB union echoed claims of a fudge.
After all the announcements and excitement we’re still in the same holding pattern, set in motion by Harold Wilson in 1968, of not building another southeast landing strip.