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Tory MPs urge government to back Heathrow’s third runway

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Conservative MPs have called on the government to continue supporting the expansion of Europe’s busiest airport, accusing it of “washing its hands” of the plans.

The Court of Appeal threw out the government’s current plans for a third runway at Heathrow last week. The judges ruled that the plans were illegal as they failed to account for climate change commitments under the Paris Agreement, which require governments to decarbonise their economies in order to keep global average temperature rises to within 2°C. Although the court does not have the power to block any expansion of Heathrow, the ruling is a serious roadblock for proponents of the project.

MPs voted strongly in favour of the plans from both sides of the Commons in June 2018, while the plans were opposed by London boroughs, the Mayor of London and environmental pressure groups on account of the climate and local environmental impacts of the airport. Boris Johnson, who as Mayor of London had expressed dismay at the possible expansion of Heathrow, was absent for the vote.

Now, Conservative MPs supportive of the project are urging the government to reconfirm support for the troubled project.

Speaking in the House of Commons, former minister Crispin Blunt said: “I know that hand washing is now de rigueur, but that should hardly extend to the government’s approach to its own NPS [national policy statement] approved by a large majority in the House when the judgement addressed the narrow point that the NPS had not been assessed against commitments made by the government in Paris.

“The government’s desertion of Heathrow at this point is very bad news for early delivery of 'Global Britain' in reality and it’s very bad news for confidence in the whole of the government’s commitment to its own national infrastructure plan.”

Department for transport minister Kelly Tolhurst told Blunt that the government is committed to airport expansion and took the decision not to appeal the decision on account of the expansion being a private sector scheme. “Of course the instigators will be issuing an appeal on that,” Tolhurst added.

Among the current Conservative backbenchers to speak out in favour of the expansion was former Foreign Office minister Andrew Murrison, who argued that the Court of Appeal’s judgement would “simply export carbon emissions to our competitors together with UK jobs and prosperity”.

During the same session, secretary of state for Wales Alun Cairns claimed that technological advances would help airports cut their carbon emissions in the future. Tolhurst agreed, saying, “He is absolutely correct that the way we are able to reach our target of net zero is with technology and research.”

However, shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald called on the government to commit to ruling out further “climate busting” airport expansion.

“It’s already clear that the government’s transport policy of road building, cutting aviation tax and airport expansions will put the UK even further off track to meet its climate targets,” he said. “This is morally indefensible and last week’s ruling means they are likely to be legally indefensible, too.”

“Will the minister take this as a wake-up call by ruling out climate-busting airport expansion, introducing a frequent flyer levy and investing in public transport, electric vehicles and active travel? The future of the planet is at stake.”

Tolhurst responded that the government is taking its commitment to the environment seriously.

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