Boris Johnson 'hands legal weapon to opponents' after Heathrow case

Boris Johnson ‘hands a legal weapon to opponents’ by letting court hijack decision on Heathrow Airport’s third runway

  • Dr Liam Fox, former Secretary of State for International Trade, criticised the PM 
  • He said that accepting the Heathrow expansion decision was a serious error 
  • Dr Fox said it was wrong to allow court to hijack police voted on in Parliament 

Boris Johnson was last night accused of handing a ‘legal weapon’ to opponents by failing to back Heathrow’s third runway and abandoning the project to the mercy of the courts.

Dr Liam Fox, former Secretary of State for International Trade, said the Prime Minister was making a serious error by allowing the legal system to hijack policy that has already voted on by Parliament.

Hopes of building a third runway at Heathrow Airport received a major setback after the project was declared illegal on environmental grounds last week.

The Court of Appeal ruled Ministers had not honoured the Paris climate change agreement when they approved the third runway at Heathrow.

Dr Liam Fox, former Secretary of State for International Trade, said Boris Johnson should not let the legal system overrule decisions made in Parliament

It follows nearly two decades of wrangling over the project and a Government-appointed commission that said in 2015 a third runway at Heathrow ‘will be crucial to the country’s prosperity in an increasingly integrated global economy’ and could be done ‘without imposing too great an environmental impact’. A sweeping majority in Parliament subsequently sealed the plan, but its destiny has become fraught.

And part of the problem, say supporters of the project, is that the Prime Minister once threatened to ‘lie down in front of the bulldozers’ to prevent it.

Heathrow and its backers have vowed to challenge last week’s decision at the Supreme Court.

But businesses behind Heathrow and other major infrastructure projects have warned that the court decision could set a dangerous precedent that has major legal implications for other future projects.

Dr Fox said that letting the judicial system take the lead on the project’s fate – with the Supreme Court now ultimately set to rule on whether the third runway is compatible with global carbon emissions targets – would leave the Government wide open to future legal risks.

Dr Fox said that letting the judicial system take the lead on the project’s fate would leave the Government wide open to future legal risks

It could expose other major infrastructure plans – ranging from road, rail and regional airports to housing and hospital projects – to legal complaints if courts decide they do not meet strict environmental targets.

‘It points to the dangers of the Government tying themselves down and giving a legal weapon to opponents,’ Dr Fox said last night.

He added that it would be ‘unfortunate if at the moment we leave the European Union we hand a competitive advantage to rivals on the Continent. Heathrow expansion is critical to global Britain as the UK needs a world-beating airport hub.’

Dr Fox added: ‘It will help UK exporters reach new global markets and bring in billions of pounds through economic growth and connectivity.

‘We can’t allow our European competitors to seize the opportunity. It doesn’t make sense to leave the EU and immediately hand a major economic advantage to competing airports on the Continent.’

Mark Reynolds, chief executive of construction firm Mace which has worked on Heathrow and the HS2 rail project, said: ‘The Government’s response is disappointing. What’s the point in having an infrastructure commission if you are going to ignore the recommendations?

‘If projects like Heathrow, and then potentially the High Speed Rail or Highways England programmes become toxic because of the environmental impact, then what are we as a nation going to do?

‘Are we just going to stop and say we don’t do anything?’

Heathrow’s official target of achieving zero carbon emissions by 2050 could even be achieved in the middle of the next decade, setting a benchmark for global airport emissions, supporters say.

Mr Reynolds said: ‘Heathrow is a massive opportunity to kickstart key innovations in sustainability, construction and productivity in the UK.

‘We should collectively get behind this.

‘The UK could become a world leader in moving to net carbon zero.’

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