Gatwick Tory MPs warn of ‘political stitch-up’ on runways by anti-Heathrow faction in Cabinet
A group of senior Conservative MPs has warned David Cameron that he must avoid a “political stitch-up” that would favour cabinet ministers, and other party heavyweights led by Boris Johnson, who are campaigning against a Heathrow 3rd runway. Crispin Blunt, the former justice minister who chairs the 9-strong group of Tory MPs representing constituencies around Gatwick, told the Tory chief whip, Mark Harper, this week that cabinet ministers opposed to a third runway at Heathrow airport should “recuse” themselves [ie. not take part in a decision, due to danger of a potential conflict of interest or lack of impartiality] when the government considers the Airports Commission’s findings. The decision by the government must be taken in an impartial manner. The Gatwick area MPs are concerned that as well as Boris Johnson and Zac Goldsmith, both keenly against a Heathrow runway, in Cabinet there are also Justine Greening, Theresa May and Philip Hammond, who are openly against a Heathrow runway. The Gatwick MPs are concerned about a political stitch-up on the runway decision. They do not believe a runway at Gatwick is in the national interest.
Gatwick Tory MPs warn of ‘political stitch-up’ by anti-Heathrow faction
A group of senior Conservative MPs has warned David Cameron that he must avoid a “political stitch-up” that would favour cabinet ministers, and other party heavyweights led by Boris Johnson, who are campaigning against a third runway at Heathrow airport.
Mark Harper, the Tory chief whip, has been told by MPs opposed to a second runway at Gatwick airport that the government must make an impartial assessment when the Airports Commission publishes its findings this summer.
Crispin Blunt, the former justice minister who is convening a nine-strong group of Tory MPs, told the chief whip in a meeting earlier this week that cabinet ministers opposed to a third runway at Heathrow airport should “recuse” themselves when the government considers the commission’s findings.
The Gatwick-area group, which met this week, fears that the London mayor plus three cabinet ministers opposed to or worried about a third runway at Heathrow – Justine Greening, Theresa May and Philip Hammond – are planning to shape the government’s response to the commission. Zac Goldsmith, the environmentalist and Tory MP for Richmond Park, has said he would trigger a byelection if the government opts for an extra runway at Heathrow.
One source said: “We are concerned about a political stitch-up. We would not stand for it. The government response to the Davies commission must not be fixed.”
Sir Howard Davies, the economist and incoming chairman of the Royal Bank of Scotland, is due to publish the findings of the commission this summer. The independent commission, which was appointed after the coalition government and the Tory party were unable to overcome their differences on airport expansion in the south east, has been examining three options. These are: a third runway at Heathrow, the extension of the existing north runway at Heathrow, to allow it to operate as two separate runways, and a second runway at Gatwick airport.
The Gatwick-area group of MPs, which includes the former ministers Sir Nicholas Soames and Nick Herbert, is convinced there is an overwhelming case in favour of expanding airport capacity at Heathrow. The group also has the informal support of Sam Gyimah, the Tory MP for East Surrey, who cannot formally join the group because he is a minister.
The group says that Heathrow has better transport links – four nearby motorways (M4, M25, M3 and M40) compared with two for Gatwick (M25 and M23); and four tube and rail lines (Piccadilly line, Heathrow Express, a proposed link from Clapham Junction and a new Crossrail link), as opposed to the Brighton mainline which serves Gatwick. They also say that the Gatwick catchment area would not be able to house all the extra workers – estimated by the group to be higher than 100,000 – that would work at the airport and in related services. The group also says that the economic benefits of an extra runway at Heathrow vastly outweigh the benefits of building one at Gatwick.
But the group fears that the seniority of MPs with constituency interests near Heathrow means that the government may find a way of appeasing the London mayor, who sits on the Tories’ political cabinet, and other high-profile figures by naming Gatwick as the site for a new runway. In his acceptance speech after his election last month as the new Tory MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip, Boris Johnson said he would lie down “in front of those bulldozers and stop the building, stop the construction of that third runway” at Heathrow.
One source in the Gatwick co-ordination group said: “The MPs around Gatwick, who have organised into the Gatwick co-ordination group, are convinced that there is no national interest case to prefer Gatwick over Heathrow. There are also profound infrastructure and labour market issues that make the Gatwick option very difficult to deliver.
“Following the analysis we have seen, we think a recommendation for Gatwick is inconceivable unless it revolves around politics rather than the national interest. We want to make it clear to people that this would not be acceptable. When the Airports Commission is assessed by government, it should not be assessed by ministers who have a strong constituency interest.”
The Gatwick-area group also includes Sir Paul Beresford, MP for Mole Valley; Jeremy Quin, MP for Horsham; Henry Smith, MP for Crawley; Nus Ghani, MP for Wealden; and Tom Tugendhat, MP for Tonbridge and Malling.
George Osborne believes that Britain must increase its runway capacity in the south east if it is to avoid losing out to rival European airports on new routes to emerging economies. The chancellor was the driving force behind setting up the Airports Commission in the last parliament to ensure the Tories abided by their 2010 manifesto commitment to “stop the third runway” at Heathrow and to “block plans for second runways at Stansted and Gatwick”.
Supporters of a third runway at Heathrow say it is the natural venue for increased capacity because it is Britain’s main “hub” airport connecting travellers from north America, Africa and the European continent to worldwide destinations. Supporters of Gatwick say that evolving travel patterns put a premium on airports, such as Gatwick, that offer “point to point” flights.
See also, on the same day:
Cabinet split over Heathrow ‘makes airport’s expansion undeliverable’
By JOE MURPHY, POLITICAL EDITOR (Evening Standard)
5.6.2015 (Evening Standard)
A cabinet split over Heathrow expansion has deepened in the run-up to the landmark report by Sir Howard Davies on how to tackle London’s aviation capacity crisis.
The appointment of Greg Hands as the new Chief Secretary to the Treasury means there are now five senior opponents of a third runway in the Cabinet.
In addition, diehard opponent Boris Johnson now joins fortnightly political Cabinet sessions. The anti-Heathrow campaign is also tipped to get “rocket boosters” if Richmond MP Zac Goldsmith bids to become Conservative candidate for Mayor on a clean and noise reduction platform.
The boost to the campaign against expanding the UK’s premier airport comes weeks before Sir Howard is expected to publish his long-awaited recommendation on whether to build new runways at Heathrow or Gatwick.
The Standard understands the report is nearly finished and will be published later this month.
One Tory source said there had been “a change in the mood music” from senior ministers in recent days, with some senior figures appearing to be more open towards Gatwick.
Mr Goldsmith told the Standard: “With so many heavyweight Cabinet ministers who are on record against Heathrow expansion, this project is politically undeliverable.”
Chelsea & Fulham MP Mr Hands is described by Tory colleagues as a “hard core” critic of expanding the UK’s premier airport, alongside International Development Secretary Justine Greening, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond and Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers.
The fifth Cabinet critic is Home Secretary Theresa May, who met Airports Commission chief Sir Howard last year to lobby against night flights affecting her Maidenhead constituency.
The Standard has learned that Ms Greening will join forces with Mr Johnson and Mr Goldsmith later this month, with an event to highlight how parts of London currently untroubled by noise could suffer if expansion goes ahead.
Mr Johnson, Mayor of London, whose Thames Estuary airport idea was rejected by the Davies Commission, is said to be “increasingly optimistic” Gatwick will be recommended for a second runway.
Fears Cameron may opt for Gatwick runway, just to avoid Cabinet rift on Heathrow
The Airports Commission is due to make its runway recommendation by the end of June, and since its recent consultation on air quality, speculation on the runway issue has become ever more feverish. The issue of air quality, in reality, prevents either runway being built – at Heathrow air quality is already too poor; at Gatwick, it would be illegal to worsen tolerable air quality for thousands of people. Speculation grows that perhaps, on some measures, the extent of the environmental damage at Gatwick might be lower than at Heathrow. It is still too high to enable a runway to be built. Now a large number of senior Tories and those in the Cabinet are personally opposed to a Heathrow runway, due to the location of their constituencies. Their constituents would not tolerate a new Heathrow runway, due to noise and pollution. So there are fears the Conservative government might try to go for Gatwick, in order to avoid internal splits within the Cabinet. Surely not a sufficient justification for devastating damage to a huge area of Sussex and Surrey, air pollution, intolerable pressure on surface transport, intolerable pressure on social infrastructure, intolerable noise burden over a wide area, huge cost to the taxpayer (not to mention raised CO2 emissions – from a government claiming to be “green”) – just to suit Cabinet members and avoid a party rift?
Zac Goldsmith says Heathrow expansion would split the Cabinet with opposition from the very top
Zac Goldsmith was re-elected to his Richmond Park seat with a majority of about 23,000 – up from a 4,000 majority in 2010. He has always been very firmly against a Heathrow 3rd runway. Zac believes that if Heathrow is “chosen” for approval by the Airports Commission, it would cause a split at the very top of government, and a real problem for David Cameron: “If you look at the cabinet today, there are at least 3 heavyweight people there, Philip Hammond, Justine Greening and Boris Johnson and others, in fact, who are implacably opposed to Heathrow expansion … He’d face a split at the highest level and I don’t think a fragile government with a small majority wants to do that.” Zac also says giving the go-ahead to Heathrow would be “an off-the-scale betrayal” from David Cameron, who came to west London before the 2010 election and promised locals, “No ifs, no buts, no 3rd runway” – and that there wouldn’t be a new runway under the Conservatives. Zac has repeated his threat of resigning if the government backs a Heathrow runway. His resignation would trigger a by-election in which he could stand as an independent on that one issue. It would offer him the opportunity to get a lot of publicity for the anti- runway case