Cabinet ‘stitch-up’ on Heathrow: Cameron takes charge of airport decision – and locks out ministers who oppose runway
- Prime Minister sets up sub-committee packed with pro-Heathrow ministers
- Justine Greening, Theresa May and Philip Hammond all left out of group
- Anti-Heathrow campaigners say: ‘It certainly looks like a stitch-up’
David Cameron was today accused of a ‘stitch-up’ as he took personal charge of the controversial decision on airport expansion.
But the Cabinet committee which will rule on contentious issue includes none of the senior ministers opposed to a third runway at Heathrow.
Today government insiders insisted such a major economic decision had to over-rule local concerns about noise but the move is likely to provoke claims of a stitch-up.
Heathrow opponents Justine Greening, Philip Hammond and Theresa May have been excluded from a Cabinet committee which will rule on expansion of airport capacity in the South East
Mr Cameron has already been warned that he faces the prospect of a Conservative revolt and even ministerial resignations if Heathrow gets the go ahead.
Boris Johnson, who now attends political Cabinet meetings, is a vocal opponent of Heathrow.
The Prime Minister said in 2009 that another runway at the west London airport is ‘just not going to happen’ due to concerns about the impact on air quality and noise pollution across the capital.
But a report by the Airports Commission earlier this month found that a third runway is the ‘best option’ for increasing the capacity of UK terminals.
International Development Secretary Justine Greening, Home Secretary Theresa May, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond and Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers are all opposed to the idea.
All four have a ministerial interest in Britain’s global air links but have been excluded from the Cabinet committee which will make a decision on expanding Heathrow, Gatwick or another site.
John Stewart, from anti-Heathrow campaign group HACAN, said: ‘It certainly looks like a stitch-up. It could be Cameron is going for a solution he believes will work ion the short-term but could backfire in the medium term because some of the Cabinet ministers who are against a third runway feel so strongly it could be a resigning issue.’
As MPs left Westminster for their summer break last night, the Cabinet Office slipped out the names of 10 senior Tories on the Economic Affairs (Airports) sub-Committee.
Chaired by Mr Cameron it includes vocal supporters of Heathrow expansion including Chancellor George Osborne and Business Secretary Sajid Javid.
Government insiders believe the roll-call is proof that the Prime Minister is ready to over-rule concerns from ministers who happen to be MPs which would be affected by Heathrow expansion.
They are already braced for Miss Greening in particular to be ‘cross’ about being left out of the decision-making process.
Also included in the group are: Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin, Environment Secretary Liz Truss, Scotland Secretary David Mundell, Communities Secretary Greg Clark, Energy Secretary Amber Rudd, Cabinet Office minister Oliver Letwin and Chief Whip Mark Harper.
The committee has been set up to ‘consider matters relating to airport capacity in the South East of England in the light of the Airports Commission’s report’.
A Whitehall source told MailOnline: ‘The Conservative Party was elected to take difficult decisions in the long-term economic interests of the country.
‘Long-term decisions don’t get much bigger than the third runway.’
The creation of the committee suggests that final decision will not be made by the Cabinet as a whole, despite being one of the most significant and contentious issues facing the Conservative government.
The sub-Committee can be contacted through the email address
Economic Affairs (Airports) sub-Committee
Prime Minister, First Lord of the Treasury and Minister for the Civil Service (Chair) (The Rt Hon David Cameron MP)
First Secretary of State and Chancellor of the Exchequer (The Rt Hon George Osborne MP)
Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills (The Rt Hon Sajid Javid MP)
Secretary of State for Transport (The Rt Hon Patrick McLoughlin MP)
Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (The Rt Hon Liz Truss MP)
Secretary of State for Scotland (The Rt Hon David Mundell MP)
Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (The Rt Hon Greg Clark MP)
Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change (The Rt Hon Amber Rudd MP)
Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (The Rt Hon Oliver Letwin MP)
Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury and Chief Whip (The Rt Hon Mark Harper MP)
Terms of Reference
To consider matters relating to airport capacity in the South East of England in the light of the Airports Commission’s report.
David Cameron was today accused of “sidelining” Cabinet opponents of a third runway at Heathrow by setting up a committee without them to consider airport expansion.
Campaigners against a bigger Heathrow are banking on Boris Johnson and several Cabinet ministers speaking out against expanding the airport if the Government seeks to press ahead with this option.
Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, Home Secretary Theresa May, International Development Secretary Justine Greening, Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers and Treasury Chief Secretary Greg Hands have all voiced opposition to another runway at the west London airport.
But none of them — or any other London MP — will be on a new Cabinet sub-committee, chaired by the Prime Minister, which will consider whether Heathrow or Gatwick should expand and make a decision “solely in the national interest”.
The revelation sparked a backlash from opponents of a third runway.
Zac Goldsmith, who has threatened to resign as Tory MP for Richmond Park if the Government backs a third runway, said: “If the Prime Minister has no confidence in his Home Secretary and Foreign Secretary to make a decision in the national interest, then surely he should fire them both immediately.”
The frontrunner to be the Tory candidate for London Mayor argued that similar arrangements had not applied to the HS2 rail link. He added: “This will give people even more reason to believe that the Heathrow decision is being rigged in favour of the Heathrow lobbyists.”
A senior Downing Street source said the committee included members with the “greatest policy interest in the decision” and that it would be based on the “evidence” and made by the end of the year.Members include Chancellor George Osborne, who is believed to be in favour of Heathrow expansion, Business Secretary Sajid Javid, Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin, Environment Secretary Liz Truss, Scottish Secretary David Mundell and Climate Change Secretary Amber Rudd.
a second runway at Gatwick, had argued in a letter to Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood that the five Cabinet ministers with concerns over Heathrow, and who represent seats in London or nearby, should play no role in determining the Government’s response to the Airports Commission report — which backed Heathrow expansion — given their strong constituency interest. He said this would be in accordance with the ministerial code.The Cabinet Secretary replied that the Prime Minister had decided to establish the new sub-committee, adding: “None of the ministers named in your earlier letter are members.”
Research by campaign group HACAN has revealed that key members of the Cabinet sub-committee appointed by David Cameron to assess the Airport Commission’s recommendation that a third runway should be built at Heathrow have been outspoken supporters of a new runway. The revelation comes the day after the news leaked out that all cabinet critics of Heathrow expansion have been excluded from the committee.
HACAN, the residents’ group which opposes expansion, has revealed that both business secretary Sajid Javid and environment Secretary Liz Truss have backed a report that called for two new runways at Heathrow. The 2012 report (1), published by the Free Enterprise Group founded by Truss, argued, “The government should grant planning permission for both a third and fourth runway at Heathrow. Britain’s hub airport, Heathrow is currently at 99% capacity, and London’s other airports are nearly as full”
Truss said, “”We do need a hub airport in the south-east of England. If you want to have a hub airport three runways probably isn’t enough. If we’re imaginative about Heathrow, I don’t see why we can’t build four runways there. (2)”
Sajid Javid gave his public backing to the report the year it was published (3).
Communities Secretary Greg Clark is also a member of the sub-committee. While he appears not to have expressed a view on Heathrow expansion, his Tunbridge Wells constituency would be impacted by a second runway at Gatwick.
HACAN chair John Stewart said, “Quite clearly David Cameron has not thought this through. In what looks like a panic move to sideline known opponents of a third runway, he has cobbled together a committee containing some strident supporters of expansion. He’s simply storing up trouble for the future. To exclude the foreign secretary from a decision of such international importance makes no sense at all. ”
In addition to foreign secretary Philip Hammond, also excluded from the committee are Theresa May, Theresa Villiers, Justine Greening, Greg Hands and Boris Johnson.
The Prime Minister is expected to make an announcement on airports in November followed by a period of consultation.
Notes for Editors: