Gordon Brown will meet Labour MPs this afternoon (15 January) in a bid to head off a rebellion over government plans to back a third runway at Heathrow.
With opponents promising to step up their campaign against the runway, resignations from government could still follow.
Ministers are trying to offset the political fallout – if not the environmental damage – with a number of green pledges.
But these have left anti-expansion campaigners unimpressed and the government faces opposition from its own MPs, legal action and the threat of direct action on an unprecedented scale.
Transport Secretary Geoff Hoon’s meanwhile has rejected a “mixed mode” operation, which would have increased flights almost immediately by allowing both existing runways to be used for both takeoff and landing at the same time.
Brown’s promise at the start of the week of a further meeting with Labour MPs raised hopes that no announcement would be made in the meantime. Now the prime minister is left mounting a damage limitation exercise in response to a revolt that will build on last year's Commons' motion signed by more than 50 Labour MPs who oppose expansion.
One ministerial aide whose resignation has been predicted has denied that his departure from the government is imminent. Andy Slaughter, MP for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd’s Bush, said he would listen to the government’s announcement and meet Brown before giving any thought to his own position.
But, equally, Slaughter made clear that he continues to oppose the new runway. While measures to mitigate its effects are important, “what most of my constituents object to – and what has to be my main concern – is that they are effectively building a new airport that will directly impact on them,” he said.
The 2M group of councils opposing Heathrow expansion called government plans for a new rail hub at Heathrow “greenwash” and predicted that it would become a white elephant. A spokesman indicated that legal action – with the support of London mayor Boris Johnson – is a strong possibility. “From the work we have been doing, we don’t think the government will meet its own environmental tests,” he told newstatesman.com. “How can they be confident? Those are the questions we will be asking our lawyers in the morning.”
The Tories have confirmed today that they will scrap plans for the runway if they win the next election.