Heathrow expansion is a “fantasy” and should be “consigned to the dustbin”, Boris Johnson has said ahead of a decision on whether to expand the airport.
In his first comments on the issue since becoming Foreign Secretary, Mr Johnson backs a report from a Parliamentary group setting out detailed risks facing taxpayers from a new third runway.
His remarks come after it emerged that Theresa May, the Prime Minister will give ministers a free vote on airport expansion, ensuring that none of her Cabinet is forced to resign over the issue.
Justine Greening, the Education Secretary, has also pledged to oppose any decision to expand Heathrow, and is expected to campaign robustly against a third runway.
Attention will now turn to Mrs May’s decision on which airport to expand after she on Thursday gave the go-ahead to the £18 billion Hinkley Point nuclear plant, despite security concerns about China’s investment in the project.
The deal to build the plant was given the go-ahead after the Government ensured there were “significant new safeguards” on future foreign investment in nuclear plants.
Government sources also said that Britain’s security services will be given a veto over foreign investment in critical infrastructure projects in the wake of the Hinkley deal.
The cost of Hinkley will add £12 a year to a typical household energy bill by 2030, the Government said.
Mrs May is considering whether to proceed with a third runway at Heathrow, or approve a rival development at Gatwick instead.
Government sources suggested that she could even give the go-ahead to both projects, allowing her to impose restriction on each airport to dilute some of the local opposition.
However, there is growing belief in Westminster that Heathrow will be expanded in some form as part of the plans.
Backing the report by the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Heathrow, which sets out 16 serious risks that could stop or delay expansion of the airport, Mr Johnson said: “The study exposes in glaring detail the weaknesses and omissions in the Howard Davies Airports Commission report. As I’ve advocated for many years Heathrow expansion is the wrong choice, and if it is chosen it simply won’t get built.”
The Foreign Secretary added: “The massive costs and enormous risks mean it’s undeliverable, and the taxpayer will be saddled with the bill for failure. While we are finding this out our international competitors will be further extending their competitive advantage over us. We need to consign this Heathrow fantasy to the dustbin. We need a better solution.
It this week emerged that Mr Johnson has been excluded from the Cabinet committee that will decide on airport expansion.
Sources said that Mr Johnson will still “contribute” despite not being a member of the committee, which is chaired by Mrs May.
Mr Johnson’s comments suggest that he still intends to campaign wholeheartedly against expansion of Heathrow even if Mrs May decides to authorise the plans.
Mr Johnson supports expansion of airports in the South East but believes Heathrow is undeliverable.
He has campaigned against Heathrow expansion for years, making it a central plank of his manifesto as mayor of London.
Zac Goldsmith, chairman of the APPG, said: “Heathrow expansion has been suffering a slow death for decades. This report should be a final nail in the coffin.
“At a time when Britain is looking to take advantage of the opportunities post Brexit it would be disastrous to embark once again on the futile quest to expand Heathrow.
“In the 21st century no developed economy is looking to fly more planes directly over its capital city. If Heathrow expansion is given the green light, it will never take off. The project will simply become a metaphor for inertia at the very time Britain needs to be going for growth.”
And Theresa Villiers, a former Cabinet minister, said: “Why expand Heathrow when, as this report shows, you could expand Gatwick for half the cost, in half the time and with a fraction of the environmental impact?”
A leaked document last week disclosed that Mrs May is considering waiving Cabinet “collective responsibility” when Parliament votes on whether to expand airports in the South East.
David Cameron, the former prime minister, did so ahead of the EU referendum, allowing members of his Cabinet to campaign for either side.
The decision on whether to build a new runway at Heathrow or Gatwick, expected in October, comes after more than 15 years of delays by both Labour and Conservative governments.
Mr Johnson, the MP for Uxbridge in west London, has previously said that he is prepared to lie down “in front of bulldozers” to stop a third runway from being built, and was heavily opposed to expansion as mayor of London.
Ms Greening, a former transport secretary and MP for Putney in south-west London, makes clear her opposition to Heathrow on her website.
It says that she “will continue to stand up for the thousands of residents who are concerned about aircraft noise and keep working to make sure our local community is listened to”.
As transport secretary in the Coalition, she said she would find it “very difficult” not to resign if the Government decided to expand Heathrow. She has indicated, however, that she could stay on in Cabinet now that she no longer holds the transport brief.