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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After a year of chaos, MPs from all parties are trying to stop an extreme Brexit

The Greens are calling for a cross-party commission on Brexit.

One year ago today, I stood on Westminster Bridge as the sun rose over a changed country. By a narrow margin, on an unexpectedly high turnout, a majority of people in Britain had chosen to leave the EU. It wasn’t easy for those of us on the losing side – especially after such scaremongering from the leaders of the Leave campaign – but 23 June 2016 showed the power of a voting opportunity where every vote counted.

A year on from the vote, and the process is in chaos. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. The Leave campaign deliberately never spelled out any detailed plan for Brexit, and senior figures fought internal battles over which model they preferred. One minute Britain would be like Norway, then we’d be like Canada – and then we’d be unique. After the vote Theresa May promised us a "Red, White and Blue Brexit" – and then her ministers kept threatening the EU with walking away with no deal at all which, in fairness, would be unique(ly) reckless. 

We now have our future being negotiated by a government who have just had their majority wiped out. More than half of voters opted for progressive parties at the last election – yet the people representing us in Brussels are the right-wing hardliners David Davis, Liam Fox and Boris Johnson.

Despite widespread opposition, the government has steadfastly refused to unilaterally guarantee EU citizens their rights. This week it has shown its disregard for the environment as it published a Queen’s Speech with no specific plans for environmental protection in the Brexit process either. 

Amid such chaos there is, however, a glimmer of hope. MPs from all parties are working together to stop an extreme Brexit. Labour’s position seems to be softening, and it looks likely that the Scottish Parliament will have a say on the final deal too. The Democratic Unionist Party is regressive in many ways, but there’s a good chance that the government relying on it will soften Brexit for Northern Ireland, at least because of the DUP's insistence on keeping the border with Ireland open. My amendments to the Queen’s speech to give full rights to EU nationals and create an Environmental Protection Act have cross-party support.

With such political instability here at home – and a growing sense among the public that people deserve a final say on any deal - it seems that everything is up for grabs. The government has no mandate for pushing ahead with an extreme Brexit. As the democratic reformers Unlock Democracy said in a recent report “The failure of any party to gain a majority in the recent election has made the need for an inclusive, consensus based working even more imperative.” The referendum should have been the start of a democratic process, not the end of one.

That’s why Greens are calling for a cross-party commission on Brexit, in order to ensure that voices from across the political spectrum are heard in the process. And it’s why we continue to push for a ratification referendum on the final deal negotiated by the government - we want the whole country to have the last word on this, not just the 650 MPs elected to the Parliament via an extremely unrepresentative electoral system.

No one predicted what would happen over the last year. From the referendum, to Theresa May’s disastrous leadership and a progressive majority at a general election. And no one knows exactly what will happen next. But what’s clear is that people across this country should be at the centre of the coming debate over our future – it can’t be stitched up behind closed doors by ministers without a mandate.

Caroline Lucas is the MP for Brighton Pavilion.

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