A spot of Reading then Heathrow

The Green London mayoral candidate reports from Reading and her party's conference plus fighting air

Conference in Reading is remarkably quiet compared with recent Green Party get-togethers, or perhaps it just seems that way after leaving behind the excitement of the London election. The campaign is snowballing now, and the first full hustings took place on Thursday, hosted by the Green Alliance. You can watch the videos and judge for yourself how we all did on Friction.tv.

Away in Reading, we've been enjoying the international flavour of the conference. The 'Global Voices' panel on Friday afternoon saw the Venezuelan Ambassador to the UK, Samuel Moncada discuss global human and environmental rights with Dr Abdullah Abu Hilal from the Palestinian West Bank town of Abu Dis, a Jerusalem suburb on its way to being officially twinned with my home town of Camden. Also on the panel, talking about the ongoing problems with Shell in the Ogoni region of Nigeria, was human rights lawyer Patrick Okonmah.

Meanwhile, back in London, two new reports have been published that finally demolished the government's paper-thin economic case for expansion at Heathrow. Friends of the Earth have released their paper, “Heathrow expansion – its true costs”. This shows the massive faults in how the consultation documents value the impacts of expansion. The report shows that, even if you accept the government’s ethically dubious framework that reduces all the impacts of a new runway to amounts of money, the numbers still don’t add up.

The figure used to calculate the cost of climate change damage isn't the Stern Report’s 'business as usual' figure of £53 per tonne of carbon dioxide, but just £19 - a figure that assumes climate change itself will be minimised thanks to strong policies from the government. FoE calls this 'circular reasoning of the worst kind'. Assuming that expanding an airport does count as 'business as usual', correcting this error almost triples the climate costs from £4.8 billion to more than £14 billion, and wipes out the government's 'net benefit' at a stroke.

The FoE report also finds flaws in calculations of the future cost of flights. In particular, the most ridiculous assumption in the whole consultation – that the price of oil “falls from $64 per barrel in 2006 to $53 per barrel in 2030”. I read this and (after I picked myself up off the floor) went to check the oil price today - it was $95.

The second report, published by consultants CE Delft who were commissioned by campaigners HACAN to look more closely at the figures, is also damning of the government’s economic analysis. They found that gains to business and employment were being similarly inflated by not taking into account the fact that money, if not spent on via the expanded airport, would be spent elsewhere in the local economy.

These studies, exposing the economic con-trick BAA and the government are trying to pull, are important since these supposed benefits are their last positive argument, set against a vast pile of negative consequences of expansion. The population of London are virtually up in arms about the extra noise and air pollution that would result from more flights, and the climate change argument is completely clear – we can’t fight climate change and build more airports, full-stop.

We now have just a few more days until the close of the consultation. Like most such consultations, the questions have been put together in such a way that it’s very difficult to answer them and actually get your opinions across. The campaigners suggest answering all the questions with a simple ‘No’ and I'm urging everyone to do the same before 27th February. See the Stop Heathrow Expansion website for more on what you can do before then, including coming to the big rally in Westminster on 25th February.

Sian Berry lives in Kentish Town and was previously a principal speaker and campaigns co-ordinator for the Green Party. She was also their London mayoral candidate in 2008. She works as a writer and is a founder of the Alliance Against Urban 4x4s
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The Brexit Beartraps, #2: Could dropping out of the open skies agreement cancel your holiday?

Flying to Europe is about to get a lot more difficult.

So what is it this time, eh? Brexit is going to wipe out every banana planet on the entire planet? Brexit will get the Last Night of the Proms cancelled? Brexit will bring about World War Three?

To be honest, I think we’re pretty well covered already on that last score, but no, this week it’s nothing so terrifying. It’s just that Brexit might get your holiday cancelled.

What are you blithering about now?

Well, only if you want to holiday in Europe, I suppose. If you’re going to Blackpool you’ll be fine. Or Pakistan, according to some people...

You’re making this up.

I’m honestly not, though we can’t entirely rule out the possibility somebody is. Last month Michael O’Leary, the Ryanair boss who attracts headlines the way certain other things attract flies, warned that, “There is a real prospect... that there are going to be no flights between the UK and Europe for a period of weeks, months beyond March 2019... We will be cancelling people’s holidays for summer of 2019.”

He’s just trying to block Brexit, the bloody saboteur.

Well, yes, he’s been quite explicit about that, and says we should just ignore the referendum result. Honestly, he’s so Remainiac he makes me look like Dan Hannan.

But he’s not wrong that there are issues: please fasten your seatbelt, and brace yourself for some turbulence.

Not so long ago, aviation was a very national sort of a business: many of the big airports were owned by nation states, and the airline industry was dominated by the state-backed national flag carriers (British Airways, Air France and so on). Since governments set airline regulations too, that meant those airlines were given all sorts of competitive advantages in their own country, and pretty much everyone faced barriers to entry in others. 

The EU changed all that. Since 1994, the European Single Aviation Market (ESAM) has allowed free movement of people and cargo; established common rules over safety, security, the environment and so on; and ensured fair competition between European airlines. It also means that an AOC – an Air Operator Certificate, the bit of paper an airline needs to fly – from any European country would be enough to operate in all of them. 

Do we really need all these acronyms?

No, alas, we need more of them. There’s also ECAA, the European Common Aviation Area – that’s the area ESAM covers; basically, ESAM is the aviation bit of the single market, and ECAA the aviation bit of the European Economic Area, or EEA. Then there’s ESAA, the European Aviation Safety Agency, which regulates, well, you can probably guess what it regulates to be honest.

All this may sound a bit dry-

It is.

-it is a bit dry, yes. But it’s also the thing that made it much easier to travel around Europe. It made the European aviation industry much more competitive, which is where the whole cheap flights thing came from.

In a speech last December, Andrew Haines, the boss of Britain’s Civil Aviation Authority said that, since 2000, the number of destinations served from UK airports has doubled; since 1993, fares have dropped by a third. Which is brilliant.

Brexit, though, means we’re probably going to have to pull out of these arrangements.

Stop talking Britain down.

Don’t tell me, tell Brexit secretary David Davis. To monitor and enforce all these international agreements, you need an international court system. That’s the European Court of Justice, which ministers have repeatedly made clear that we’re leaving.

So: last March, when Davis was asked by a select committee whether the open skies system would persist, he replied: “One would presume that would not apply to us” – although he promised he’d fight for a successor, which is very reassuring. 

We can always holiday elsewhere. 

Perhaps you can – O’Leary also claimed (I’m still not making this up) that a senior Brexit minister had told him that lost European airline traffic could be made up for through a bilateral agreement with Pakistan. Which seems a bit optimistic to me, but what do I know.

Intercontinental flights are still likely to be more difficult, though. Since 2007, flights between Europe and the US have operated under a separate open skies agreement, and leaving the EU means we’re we’re about to fall out of that, too.  

Surely we’ll just revert to whatever rules there were before.

Apparently not. Airlines for America – a trade body for... well, you can probably guess that, too – has pointed out that, if we do, there are no historic rules to fall back on: there’s no aviation equivalent of the WTO.

The claim that flights are going to just stop is definitely a worst case scenario: in practice, we can probably negotiate a bunch of new agreements. But we’re already negotiating a lot of other things, and we’re on a deadline, so we’re tight for time.

In fact, we’re really tight for time. Airlines for America has also argued that – because so many tickets are sold a year or more in advance – airlines really need a new deal in place by March 2018, if they’re to have faith they can keep flying. So it’s asking for aviation to be prioritised in negotiations.

The only problem is, we can’t negotiate anything else until the EU decides we’ve made enough progress on the divorce bill and the rights of EU nationals. And the clock’s ticking.

This is just remoaning. Brexit will set us free.

A little bit, maybe. CAA’s Haines has also said he believes “talk of significant retrenchment is very much over-stated, and Brexit offers potential opportunities in other areas”. Falling out of Europe means falling out of European ownership rules, so itcould bring foreign capital into the UK aviation industry (assuming anyone still wants to invest, of course). It would also mean more flexibility on “slot rules”, by which airports have to hand out landing times, and which are I gather a source of some contention at the moment.

But Haines also pointed out that the UK has been one of the most influential contributors to European aviation regulations: leaving the European system will mean we lose that influence. And let’s not forget that it was European law that gave passengers the right to redress when things go wrong: if you’ve ever had a refund after long delays, you’ve got the EU to thank.

So: the planes may not stop flying. But the UK will have less influence over the future of aviation; passengers might have fewer consumer rights; and while it’s not clear that Brexit will mean vastly fewer flights, it’s hard to see how it will mean more, so between that and the slide in sterling, prices are likely to rise, too.

It’s not that Brexit is inevitably going to mean disaster. It’s just that it’ll take a lot of effort for very little obvious reward. Which is becoming something of a theme.

Still, we’ll be free of those bureaucrats at the ECJ, won’t be?

This’ll be a great comfort when we’re all holidaying in Grimsby.

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Brexit. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.