Boris Johnson dismisses Heathrow third runway report: 'it won't happen'

Mayor of London says Davies commission report should be ‘filed vertically’, after it proposes airport expansion that threatens to split Conservatives

Boris Johnson has declared there will be no need for him to lie down in front of the bulldozers to stop the third runway at Heathrow because it is not going to happen, despite the recommendation of the Davies commission.

The mayor of London said the report should be “filed vertically” and dismissed all its proposed assurances that a third runway would not add to noise pollution or lead to a fourth runway.

Expanding an airport on the outskirts of a major city in the face of public opposition was the kind of thing that could have happened in China in the 1950s but would be impossible to deliver in London because of the legal challenges, environmental cost and human rights issues, Johnson added.

“I don’t think my services as a bulldozer blocker will be required for decades, if ever, because I don’t think it’s going to happen,” he said. “We had to go through this exercise of looking at Heathrow. And now there will be a huge caterwauling saying come on, let’s do it. We must go through this. It won’t succeed.”

Johnson was also dismissive of Davies’s suggestion of passing a law to stop Heathrow pushing for a fourth runway, saying it was a “fatuous thing to propose” given that a parliament could not bind its successors.

He said he also did not believe in the idea of getting Heathrow to promise not to increase noise pollution and or in banning night flying, as these would be “rapidly eroded” once the runway was built.

“This was an outcome I thought was inevitable because the mandate was to provide a political fig leaf for an establishment U-turn,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

Boris Johnson (centre) outside parliament on Wednesday, flanked by other MPs opposed to Heathrow expansion
Boris Johnson (centre right) and Zac Goldsmith (centre left) outside parliament on Wednesday, flanked by others opposed to Heathrow expansion. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA

Asked what he would do if the prime minister opted for expanding Heathrow, Johnson claimed the government was a “long day’s march” from that.

Zac Goldsmith, the Richmond MP and possible Tory candidate to succeed Johnson as mayor of London, said he would resign his seat if the proposal for Heathrow went ahead.

“Yes, I made a pledge that I would trigger a byelection to Heathrow expansion … but that’s not going to happen,” he said.

Goldsmith has already said he will stand down as an MP if he is selected as the Tory mayoral candidate by open primary.

Speaking to Sky News, he said a decision in favour of Heathrow was one in favour “of fudge and delay”.

Justine Greening, the development secretary, and Greg Hands, the chief secretary to the Treasury, are also known to oppose Heathrow expansion because of the effect on their London constituencies. Philip Hammond, the foreign secretary, Theresa Villiers, the Northern Ireland secretary, and Theresa May, the home secretary, have also been named as opponents.

Justine Greening is opposed to Heathrow expansion.
International development secretary Justine Greening is opposed to Heathrow expansion. Photograph: Stefan Wermuth/Reuters

Downing Street has indicated that any minister who refuses to accept the government’s decision on a new airport runway at Gatwick or Heathrow will have to resign.

The prime minister’s spokeswoman said that Patrick McLoughlin, the transport secretary, would make a decision on behalf of the government. The spokeswoman said that the ministerial code, which says that ministers should act with care if a constituency matter has an impact on their work as a minister, would also apply.

Asked whether ministers would be bound by responsibility when McLoughlin makes his decision, the spokeswoman said: “This will be a government approach.”

“Clearly all ministers will need to abide by the ministerial code,” she added. The ministerial code says: “Where ministers have to take decisions within their departments which might have an impact on their own own constituencies they must take particular care to avoid any possible conflict of interest.”

Patrick McLoughlin, the transport secretary, will make the final decision on airports expansion.
Patrick McLoughlin, the transport secretary, will make the final decision on airports expansion. Photograph: Stefan Wermuth/Reuters

The government will not decide on what to do for several months but McLoughlin will make a statement to parliament later.

David Cameron is in a particularly difficult position because he said in 2009 he did not support a third runway at Heathrow with “no ifs, no buts”. However, others in his cabinet, including the chancellor, George Osborne, are thought to be persuaded of the economic case for Heathrow.

Labour is leaving its options open about backing a third runway at Heathrow, but sounded as if it was inclining towards backing the Davies report if his proposals met certain green standards.

Michael Dugher, the shadow transport secretary, said: “Labour has always been clear that more airport capacity is vital to Britain’s economic success and we need action if we are to maintain our status as Europe’s most important aviation hub.

“We will scrutinise the Airports Commission’s final report carefully. If the recommendation can meet a number of tests, including consistency with our climate change obligations, we will take a swift decision to back Sir Howard Davies’ proposals.”

Louise Ellman, chair of the Commons transport select committee, strongly supported the recommendations, saying they backed up those of her own watchdog.

“Sir Howard’s findings echo those of the committee I chaired in the last parliament, when we concluded that a third runway at Heathrow was necessary for the UK to maintain its status as an international aviation hub.

“A new runway at Heathrow would also help to meet the current capacity shortfall, and provide a much-needed opportunity to improve connectivity from airports across the regions and nations of the UK.”

MPs with constituencies near Gatwick, known as the Gatwick Coordination Group, sounded relieved about the Davies conclusions. The group, which includes former ministers Crispin Blunt and Nick Herbert, released a statement saying the Airports Commission had made “a clear decision in the national interest” which meant the case for Gatwick expansion was “dead and buried”.

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