No mention of lying in front of bulldozers at recent hustings
It looks like prospective Prime Minister Boris Johnson may have already made a U-turn in his well-publicised opposition to Heathrow expansion.
Four years ago Mr Johnson told his constituents in he would “lie down with you in front of those bulldozers and stop the building, stop the construction of that third runway”.
On Wednesday (12 June) though he seemed to have changed his mind, with The Times reporting that he had a very different view when asked when he would cancel the scheme.
At a hustings organised by the Conservative Party’s 1922 Committee of backbenchers, he reportedly said the plans had now been approved by parliament.
Mr Johnson flew to Afghanistan for a one-day meeting on the date of the crucial vote in parliament last June.
The Back Heathrow campaign group’s executive director, Parmjit Dhanda, welcomed Mr Johnson’s statements.
He said, “I think Boris is well aware that there was a big majority in parliament, a majority of 296, and a majority in both the Labour and the Conservative parties, to get on and do this.”
“He knows if he wants to deliver Brexit he needs to work with and develop new trade routes with the country’s biggest port by value.”
Mr Dhanda said Back Heathrow had polls suggesting the majority of Johnson’s constituents were for Heathrow, rather than against it.
He said, “Boris isn’t unknown for flipping his position on issues, but with this one he knows he has to carry his party in Westminster if he wants to be the leader. He knows he needs to do the responsible thing for the country if he wants to deliver Brexit.”
Stop Heathrow Expansion spokesman Rob Barnstone said he didn’t think Boris had committed to anything.
He said, “The Times headline doesn’t reflect the reported answer he gave at the hustings.
“All Parliament has done is give general planning permission based on national policy objectives but a detailed proposal is yet to be submitted to the inspectorate or the Secretary of State.”
“That will come later. It is then that a decision by a Government, led by Mr Johnson or any other prime minister, could decide that based on new evidence, the proposal should not go ahead. Little has changed.”
Labour challenger in Uxbridge and South Ruislip Ali Milani said the reported equivocation wasn’t surprising.
Mr Milani said: “We never had an ounce of belief in him that he would stand up on the issue.”
“This only goes to solidify the man’s a serial liar, and isn’t fit to represent Uxbridge and South Ruislip, let alone be Prime Minister.”
“I think the issue is that for us, the question of Heathrow isn’t just political games, it’s about the area, the air pollution, the lives and impacts on houses and residents that it has.”
Mr Johnson’s seeming equivocation will be a blow to those like Lucy Kelly, who still believed he was going to fight the Heathrow proposal.
Speaking from Mr Johnson’s constituency on the day he declared he was running for the top job, she said: “He doesn’t want the third runway at Heathrow, I do believe him on that.”
Mrs Kelly had a very personal reason for not wanting the airport to expand, because her husband’s ancestors are buried in Harmondsworth and their graves may be disturbed by the development.
Last month the High Court dismissed five legal challenges to the approval of the runway, but campaign groups including Stop Heathrow Expansion have indicated they would bring new legal challenges.
In response to Mr Johnson’s statements, a Heathrow spokesperson said: “Expanding Britain’s hub airport means our country will have up to 40 new, long-haul trading links after Brexit, as well as creating tens of thousands of new skilled jobs and boosting our economy by tens of billions.”
“Delivering all of this within strict environmental limits and at no cost to the taxpayer – it’s no wonder 415 MPs crossed party lines and green-lighted the project.
“Given the support, the benefits and mitigations programme in place, we are getting on with delivering this project of national importance for the country and its future.”
This Tuesday (18 June) Heathrow will launched a three month consultation into its plans for the third runway which it hopes to open in 2026. The consultation includes proposals to build the new runway over the M25 as well plans to re-route local rivers, replace utilities and bring in changes to the road network.
Mr Johnson has been contacted for comment for this article.
Ged Cann – Local Democracy Reporter
June 17, 2019