The decision to approve Heathrow airport has been “taken” by the government. The reason for the quotations in the last sentence is what has me worried – not about airport expansion but rather about Brexit.
The cabinet has decided as a whole that Heathrow should be allowed to expand. Only there is apparently still a long consultation coming our way on the topic. Also, May is giving anti-Heathrow ministers (namely Boris and Justine Greening) a chance to speak about their opposition, thus making the “decision” not subject to collective cabinet responsibility. So one has to wonder what “approval” by the government means when there needs to be more discussion in the House before it can actually move ahead and top ministers are free to rubbish the idea in public.
This is important to bear in mind ahead of the Brexit negotiations. Leaving the EU is an exponentially more difficult thing for a government to do than green lighting an extra runway in west London. More than ever, collective cabinet responsibility becomes paramount. Yet if they can’t decide on Heathrow as a group, what chance of agreeing on what a post-EU Britain should look like?
Heathrow also makes May look more deer in the headlights on the whole EU negotiating stance than would otherwise be the case. While the “we don’t want to show the EU our hand” thing is very weak – there are only three main issues: immigration, access to the customs union and UK contributions to the EU budget, and what Britain wants out of that mix isn’t tricky to work through – without another big issue to contrast it with, you could buy that at least it wasn’t an excuse but rather some sort of tactical naivety. In light of Heathrow, you have to think again about May’s suitability to run the Article 50 negotiations.
She is someone who likes for a consensus to be reached; for a topic to be talked through and then a collective position reached. On Heathrow, that was always going to be impossible, mostly for political reasons (Boris and Greening’s constituents would be merciless if they backtracked on this issue), so she had to make a decision and then go for it. She instead seems determined to fudge it.
The Article 50 negotiations require someone who has a vision and is prepared to see that to its end. An equivocator who wants everyone on her side to be happy with every stanza will get ripped to shreds out there. It’s this more than anything else that has me worried about how Brexit will proceed at present.