Boris Johnson is on a contrived overseas trip so will not have to vote on whether to expand Heathrow
Downing Street has ordered a no-holds-barred effort to “fix” tomorrow’s crucial Commons vote on Heathrow’s proposed third runway, including sending the most high-profile opponent, Boris Johnson, on a trip to Africa.


Chris Grayling, the transport secretary, has scheduled the vote days before publication of a government report warning that surging aviation emissions would destroy Britain’s greenhouse gas reduction targets. It means MPs will have had no chance to read the report, from the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) on Thursday, before voting.

The report will warn that aviation and other emissions are growing so fast that homeowners and businesses may have to sacrifice gas cookers, central heating boilers and petrol cars for Britain to meet its climate change targets.

News of the “deception” left Labour infuriated. “This is outrageous,” said Andy McDonald, the Labour transport shadow secretary. “MPs will be voting in ignorance of the key facts about emissions from aviation. It’s a free vote but I am recommending all Labour MPs oppose Heathrow expansion.”

Last year UK aviation emissions hit 37m tonnes, close to the pre-recession peak of 37.5m tonnes in 2005. The CCC says this must not be exceeded if the UK is to meet its 80% carbon reduction target. However, a report published on Grayling’s department website last week says aviation emissions will hit 43m tonnes of CO2 by 2030 if Heathrow expands.

Lord Deben, chairman of the CCC, has written to Grayling, warning of the perils of expanding aviation. He said: “Aviation emissions at 2005 levels in 2050 means other sectors must reduce emissions by more than 80%, and in many cases will likely need to reach zero . . . Levels higher [than 2005] in 2050 must not be planned for, since this would place an unreasonably large burden on other sectors.”

By “other sectors” Deben is referring to the emissions generated by private cars, buses and trains, plus those from central heating boilers, gas cookers and fires, as well as from businesses.

The UK emitted 800m tonnes of CO2 in 1990 and pledges to cut this to 344m tonnes by 2030 and 160m tonnes by 2050.

Deben’s letter has prompted angry private exchanges. Yesterday Grayling issued a statement supporting Heathrow expansion. “This country can no longer afford to wait for extra aviation capacity,” he said. “Parliament has the opportunity to take a bold and decisive step to deliver a strong free-trading global Britain after Brexit. The alternative is unthinkable.”

Others disagree, including Johnson whose Uxbridge and South Ruislip constituency lies under the Heathrow flight path and who once threatened to “lie down in front of the bulldozers”. His overseas trip was contrived to let him avoid having to confront Grayling or vote.

The CCC’s figures suggest that Grayling’s plans to expand UK aviation, including a near-doubling of passenger numbers by 2050, are incompatible with Britain meeting its carbon reduction targets. Last year it warned that by 2030 Britain’s CO2 emissions would still be 100m-170m tonnes higher than they should be. Its report on Thursday will say this gap has increased.

Environmental groups warn that expanding aviation will in effect take Britain out of the Paris agreement on climate change. James Beard, a climate specialist at the World Wide Fund for Nature, said: “We can live up to our commitments to tackle climate change or we can build a third runway. It’s almost impossible to do both.”