The airport expansion plan seems to have flown over the Mayor of London's head. Photo: Getty
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Boris Island plans are rejected, but is this really a blow for the Mayor?

A proposal to build a new airport in the Thames Estuary is to be rejected in an apparent blow to the Mayor of London. But could it help him?

The BBC is reporting that the plan for airport capacity expansion in Britain – building a new island airport in the Thames estuary – is to be rejected by Howard Davies’ Airport Commission. It is thought to be “too risky” and the “logistical challenges” are too great.

The Thames estuary option is known as “Boris Island”, because it is the pet plan of the Mayor of London, who has been backing such a proposal throughout the highly politicised debate about the state of Britain’s aviation and airport capacity. The debate is tied up with opposition to building a third runway at Heathrow, which is thought by many now to be the preferred option of the Commission, and for which the CBI has effectively come out in support, saying a single, larger-hub airport was “critical”.

So what does this mean for the Mayor of London? His aviation adviser, Daniel Moylan, has stated:

"Airports policy has been stalled for nearly five decades, ricocheting like a billiard ball between Heathrow and Gatwick…

"We have only one opportunity to break out of that but it seems the Commission has taken us back to the same old failed choice."

Johnson himself has written in the Telegraph that, although his support for “Boris Island” meant backing the single-hub option, a category which Heathrow also falls under, he still will not be supporting the expansion of Europe’s busiest airport:

There is no government in the Western world that would even contemplate an act so self-defeating, so short-termist, and so barbarically contemptuous of the rights of the population. That is why all three main parties have correctly ruled out expansion of Heathrow airport, in the form of a third runway.

So it is mystifying and depressing to learn that some in Whitehall want to use the cover provided by Sir Howard Davies to effect a colossal U-turn: by announcing that this option is back on the agenda – for consideration post May 2015.

The fundamental problem with Heathrow is that it is situated in the western suburbs, so that unlike any other major hub airport it requires planes to land by flying over the heart of the city. The answer is not to keep compounding the mistake, but to look at a new site.

Johnson has been on a roll over the summer, announcing his intention to stand as an MP in 2015, and choosing his prospective seat, Uxbridge and South Ruislip. However, if the possibility of championing the Thames estuary option is now out of the window, perhaps it gives Johnson a chance to distance himself from the airport expansion debate, therefore saving him from bashing one of the main employers of his potential west London constituents.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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Theresa May is paying the price for mismanaging Boris Johnson

The Foreign Secretary's bruised ego may end up destroying Theresa May. 

And to think that Theresa May scheduled her big speech for this Friday to make sure that Conservative party conference wouldn’t be dominated by the matter of Brexit. Now, thanks to Boris Johnson, it won’t just be her conference, but Labour’s, which is overshadowed by Brexit in general and Tory in-fighting in particular. (One imagines that the Labour leadership will find a way to cope somehow.)

May is paying the price for mismanaging Johnson during her period of political hegemony after she became leader. After he was betrayed by Michael Gove and lacking any particular faction in the parliamentary party, she brought him back from the brink of political death by making him Foreign Secretary, but also used her strength and his weakness to shrink his empire.

The Foreign Office had its responsibility for negotiating Brexit hived off to the newly-created Department for Exiting the European Union (Dexeu) and for navigating post-Brexit trade deals to the Department of International Trade. Johnson was given control of one of the great offices of state, but with no responsibility at all for the greatest foreign policy challenge since the Second World War.

Adding to his discomfort, the new Foreign Secretary was regularly the subject of jokes from the Prime Minister and cabinet colleagues. May likened him to a dog that had to be put down. Philip Hammond quipped about him during his joke-fuelled 2017 Budget. All of which gave Johnson’s allies the impression that Johnson-hunting was a licensed sport as far as Downing Street was concerned. He was then shut out of the election campaign and has continued to be a marginalised figure even as the disappointing election result forced May to involve the wider cabinet in policymaking.

His sense of exclusion from the discussions around May’s Florence speech only added to his sense of isolation. May forgot that if you aren’t going to kill, don’t wound: now, thanks to her lost majority, she can’t afford to put any of the Brexiteers out in the cold, and Johnson is once again where he wants to be: centre-stage. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.