Boris raises the stakes in his war with Cameron

Mayor of London establishes rival inquiry into airport capacity after rejecting third runway as "simply mad".

After his open criticism of David Cameron's cabinet reshuffle and his ill-disguised interest in an early Commons comeback, Boris Johnson's decision to establish his own review into airport capacity represents a further escalation of tensions with Downing Street. Unlike the government's inquiry, which he memorably dismissed as a "fudgerama", Boris's review will explicitly exclude the option of a third runway and is expected to take nine months, reporting two years earlier than Cameron's.

The line from the Mayor's camp is that the inquiry is not "a rival" to the government's, rather it is designed to "inform" it. But Boris's motive is clear. Aware that the government cannot break its pledge not to build a third runway before 2015, he will attempt to assemble a powerful coalition of support for his preferred option of a new airport in the Thames estuary ("Boris Island") on which work could begin immediately.

Meanwhile, the Mayor has unsurprisingly dismissed claims that Zac Goldsmith offered to stand down for him if the government breaks its Heathrow pledge (Goldsmith has repeatedly warned that he is prepared to trigger a by-election), stating: "I've said, as I said in the election about a billion times, being mayor is the best job in British politics and it's what I want to do."

But, as you will have noticed, Boris's choice of words doesn't explicitly preclude the possibility of his standing in a by-election. It's worth remembering that after the 2000 London mayoral election, Ken Livingstone remained the MP for Brent East until 2001. There is no constitutional obstacle to Boris similarly combining the two roles.

Boris Johnson has said it would be "simply mad" to build a third runway at Heathrow airport. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Budget 2017: What announcements will Philip Hammond make?

What will the first budget after Brexit hold for the economy?

This spring’s Budget - set to be announced on Wednesday 8 March 2017 - will be forced to confront the implications of last June's Brexit vote, along with dealing with issues of reliance on consumer spending, business rates and government borrowing. The government also (quietly) announced on Monday night that it will be asking ministerial departments to outline cuts up to 6 per cent, a potential nod for what’s to come next week.

All these things, along with the fact the Chancellor Philip Hammond is scrapping the spring Budget, meaning this announcement should be an interesting one.

The big story at the moment focuses on borrowing. The Resolution Foundation has predicted that healthier-than-expected tax revenues and the lack of a Brexit effect so far will lower Budget borrowing forecasts by £29bn between 2015-16 and 2020-21. 

The FT reports a possible £3bn reduction in borrowing, to £67bn. They also pin this optimistic prediction to higher-than-average self-assessment tax receipts, after changes in the taxation of dividends.

The Chancellor will potentially stick to the three key changes he made from George Osborne’s former financial commitments, according to The Sun. These consist of not predicting a surplus in 2019/20, slightly relieving the cap on welfare spending and no longer committing to reducing debt. The paper also predicts he’ll announce a change to the controversial business rates that were recently released, that could leave “shopkeepers and publicans clobbered with tax hikes of up to 400 per cent".

What do we know for sure?

The government has announced a few key changes in in advance of the Budget.

  1. The Spring Budget 2017 will be the final Budget held during springtime
  2. Finance Bill will follow the Budget, as it does now
  3. From 2018 "Legislation day" will move to the summer
  4. An Autumn Budget means tax changes will be announced well in advance of the start of the tax year
  5. 2018 will see the first Spring Statement