Patrick McLoughlin hints that EU referendum could delay runway decision, even beyond this summer

One of the many omissions by the Airports Commission, in its analysis of whether a runway should be built, and its recommendation, is the impact of the UK leaving the EU. It was not considered.  Clearly, if the UK did leave Europe after a referendum, there would be complicated economic impacts – which would take years to work through.  Now the Secretary of State for Transport, Patrick McLoughlin, speaking in an interview on LBC, has said there could indeed be a delay in the government making a decision due to the referendum and the uncertainty about that.  Asked when there would be a decision, he replied: “I hope later this year. We have said we would hope to move some way by the summer of this year.”  And he went on:  “There’s lots of other things which are going on in the political spectrum – if there’s a referendum this summer, and the like. But I would hope by the summer of this year we will be able to make progress.” There is no mention at all of the issue in the Airports Commission’s final report in July 2015 nor in the many supporting documents, nor in its interim report, in December 2013. David Cameron has said the EU referendum will happen by the end of 2017. It may happen as early as June or July 2016. 


EU referendum could delay airport runway decision, hints Patrick McLoughlin

A final decision on a new runway for the South East of England could be further delayed by the referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU, Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin has hinted.

Mr McLoughlin said he hoped the Government would finally make its choice between expansion at Heathrow or Gatwick by the summer, but added that the referendum was one of a number of issues competing for ministers’ attention in the months ahead.

Speaking to LBC radio, the Transport Secretary denied that last year’s postponement of the runway decision was designed to delay the contentious verdict until after the election of the new London mayor in May.

Patrick McLoughlin insisted that the upcoming mayoral election would not have any bearing on the runway decision

Asked when the issue would finally be resolved, Mr McLoughlin said: “I hope later this year. We have said we would hope to move some way by the summer of this year.”

But he added: “There’s lots of other things which are going on in the political spectrum – if there’s a referendum this summer, and the like. But I would hope by the summer of this year we will be able to make progress.”

A decision on a possible third runway at Heathrow was deferred last month after ministers decided more work was needed on its impact on air quality, noise and carbon emissions.

Mr McLoughlin insisted that the upcoming mayoral election “didn’t have any bearing” on the decision, pointing out that ministers had known of Conservative candidate Zac Goldsmith’s opposition to a third runway for some time.

The Transport Secretary also revealed that he has told Cabinet colleagues to set off earlier for work in response to traffic delays in Westminster which some motorists blame on mayor Boris Johnson’s introduction of new bike lanes in a set of “cycle superhighways”.

Asked if his colleagues had complained about the impact of the roadworks, Mr McLoughlin said: “Those conversations have to stay with me. They can moan, but I just tell them to leave a bit earlier.”

Mr McLoughlin said he had had “some interesting exchanges” with the mayor over the superhighway plan, but denied giving Mr Johnson a dressing-down over the disruption.

“(It was) not a ticking off, because he is the mayor, he has got his own electorate, he believes fully in what he is doing,” he told presenter Nick Ferrari.

David Cameron has made clear his intention to offer Mr Johnson a ministerial job after he leaves City Hall in May, but Mr McLoughlin declined to speculate on where he might be going.

“Who knows?” said the Transport Secretary. “I’m not sure Boris knows on that one, and I’m certainly not going to get into that.

“Boris is a big enough character to look after himself.”

The Transport Secretary also described the award of asylum status to a migrant who walked through the Channel Tunnel last August as “a surprising decision”.

“I’m not responsible for the court’s decisions,” he said. “There have been a lot of other measures now taken to prevent people getting into the Tunnel.”



From the FT report

Mr McLoughlin said there would be a decision on London airport capacity later this year but that the Volkswagen emissions scandal had complicated some of the environmental calculations.

“There’s a bit more work to do on air quality and other issues around Gatwick as well,” he said. He insisted a decision would be taken in good time, but that the government was keen to make sure it avoided any potential judicial reviews over the issue.

The government’s foot-dragging on whether to expand Heathrow or Gatwick is an embarrassment for George Osborne, whose “we are the builders” Tory conference speech last year was supposed to herald a tough new stance on infrastructure projects.

“Building doesn’t come easy, especially when it comes to new homes and the infrastructure this country needs,” he said. “Where would Britain be if we had never built railways or runways, power stations or new homes?”

However, a decision to wait until after the EU referendum could have other knock-on effects, and potentially result in an even longer delay depending on the outcome, warn experts.

“What if the vote is a ‘no’ to staying in Europe? The airports commission’s economic models made no analysis of ‘in or out’. Something as significant as leaving the EU would have to be considered in long-term demand forecasts . . . so those models would have to be re-run,” said Alistair Watson, head of planning at law firm Taylor Wessing.

In general, more delays are likely to result in a loss of momentum. It has already given Gatwick, the UK’s second largest airport, a new opportunity to lobby for expansion.


See also

The UK’s EU referendum: Everything you need to know

  • 19 January 2016 (BBC)

The UK is set to have a referendum by the end of 2017 on whether or not to remain a member of the European Union.

What is happening?

The Conservatives’ election manifesto promised to hold a referendum (a nationwide vote) on whether or not the UK should stay in or leave the European Union. They won the election so it’s all systems go.

What is a referendum?

A referendum is basically a vote in which everyone (or nearly everyone) of voting age can take part, normally giving a “Yes” or “No” answer to a question. Whichever side gets more than half of all votes cast is considered to have won.

When will the EU referendum happen?

The one thing we know for sure is that Prime Minister David Cameron has said it will happen by the end of 2017. The most likely times of the year for referendums are generally May or September, and some people – including, it is said, the prime minister himself – think it should be held as soon as possible. There had been suggestions that it could be held in May 2016, to coincide with elections in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and London, rather than waiting for 2017 – but the government has ruled that out and June or July 2016 are now seen as most likely. Here is a full rundown of the likely dates and key events.

Why not just hold the referendum now?

When David Cameron announced in January 2013 his pledge to hold a referendum, a key element was that he would seek to make changes to the way the European Union works – or at least the rules covering the UK as a European Union member. Only once this renegotiation of British membership had been completed would he put the new arrangement to the public vote.

What did other parties think about the idea of a referendum?

During the election the Lib Dems and Labour both said they did not want a referendum unless there were plans to transfer more powers from the UK to the EU. The SNP also opposed a referendum. The UK Independent Party and The Greens both backed a referendum. As already mentioned, the Conservatives won the election and the necessary legislation has gone through Parliament so parties’ focus is not on whether to hold a referendum, but which side to back.

What will the referendum question be?

The question is always crucial in any referendum. The 2013 suggestion from the Conservatives was: “Do you think that the United Kingdom should remain a member of the European Union. Yes or no“. Some people thought this phrasing leaned too far towards the status quo – the current state of affairs – and the Electoral Commission, which has to approve the question, said it was not clear enough and proposed: “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?” Downing Street and MPs have accepted the amended wording.

Read more: Does the wording of a referendum question matter?

Who will be able to vote?

British, Irish and Commonwealth citizens over 18 who are resident in the UK, along with UK nationals who have lived overseas for less than 15 years. Members of the House of Lords and Commonwealth citizens in Gibraltar will also be eligible, unlike in a general election. Citizens from EU countries – apart from Ireland, Malta and Cyprus – will not get a vote.

What are the main changes David Cameron hopes to make?

Mr Cameron set out the four key ways he wants to change the UK’s membership of the EU in a letter to European Council president Donald Tusk in November:

  • Integration: Allowing Britain to opt out from the EU’s founding ambition to forge an “ever closer union” of the peoples of Europe so it will not be drawn into further political integration
  • Benefits: Restricting access to in-work and out-of-work benefits to EU migrants. Specifically, ministers want to stop those coming to the UK from claiming certain benefits and housing until they have been resident for four years. But the European Commission, which runs the EU, has said such a move would be “highly problematic”. Ministers have reportedly been warned by the UK’s top civil servant this could be discriminatory and any limits may be reduced to less than a year
  • Sovereignty: Giving greater powers to national parliaments to block EU legislation. The UK supports a “red card” system allowing member states to scrap, as well as veto, unwanted directives. But this may only be triggered by states acting together, not the UK acting alone
  • Eurozone v the rest: Securing an explicit recognition that the euro is not the only currency of the European Union, to ensure countries outside the eurozone are not materially disadvantaged. The UK wants safeguards that steps to further financial union cannot be imposed on non-eurozone members and the UK will not have to contribute to eurozone bailouts


And there is much more ………. at