India 'boost' to Heathrow expansion

The two Indian origin Labour MPs with constituencies closest to Heathrow - Virendra Sharma in Ealing Southall and Seema Malhotra in Feltham and Heston - were among those who supported the government when the long delayed plan to build a third runway at Britain premier airport was approved by 415 votes to 119, a majority of 296.

By Amit Roy
  • Published 27.06.18
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Labour MP Seema Malhotra

London: The two Indian origin Labour MPs with constituencies closest to Heathrow - Virendra Sharma in Ealing Southall and Seema Malhotra in Feltham and Heston - were among those who supported the government when the long delayed plan to build a third runway at Britain premier airport was approved by 415 votes to 119, a majority of 296.

An expanded Heathrow would be good for India, Sharma argued.

He said: "Thousands of young people in my constituency will have access to high quality jobs and rigorous apprenticeships to qualify them for the jobs.

"An expanded Heathrow is not just an airport for West London, it is a nationwide and worldwide hub, with more flights in and out of Heathrow we can expect more direct flights to India and other increasingly important UK trade partners. The government is investing in a global Britain."

The plans will create 114,000 extra jobs in the area around the airport by 2030, with an extra 16 million long-haul seats by 2040, according to officials.

Transport secretary Chris Grayling said support for the new runway would set a "Lear path to our future as a global nation in the post-Brexit world. This is a really important moment in the history of this House and the history of this country."

But never have Britain's political classes been so bitterly divided, not just on Brexit, but also on crucial issues such as the expansion of Heathrow, which will be just about the biggest infrastructural project the country will witness in the next 20 years or so.

An hour before MPs voted, police locked down the Central Lobby, adjacent to the Commons, after 12 chanting protesters sprawled across the floor.

Eight Conservative MPs rebelled to vote against Heathrow expansion while 286 Tories supported the third runway. The eight included the former Northern Ireland secretary Theresa Villiers, as well as Greg Hands, who quit as a trade minister ahead of the vote so he could oppose the plans which he dubbed "fundamentally flawed".

Boris Johnson, who once said he would "lie down ... In front of those bulldozers" to stop the expansion of Heathrow when he was mayor of London, absented himself on a trip to Afghanistan so that he was not forced to resign in order to vote against the Prime Minister Theresa May.

He was mocked in parliament but said in a statement: "My resignation would have achieved absolutely nothing."

He said he would continue to oppose the £14 billion expansion behind closed doors by lobbying colleagues inside government and predicted the runway would fail to be built.

Another Tory who opposed the motion is Jemima Khan's younger brother, Zac Goldsmith, MP for Richmond, who, incidentally, has just been appointed a co-chairman of the Conservative Friends of India, along with the Indian businessman Rami Ranger.

The Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who has warned that expansion will be scrapped if his party comes to power, voted against the motion, as did the shadow chancellor John McDonnell, who said villages which have existed for 1,000 years will be "wiped off the face of the earth" by Heathrow expansion.

How Corbyn will manage to do this is unclear since, given a free vote, 119 Labour MPs supported the government, while 94 opposed the motion.

If a third runway is built, along with a new terminal, Heathrow Airport Ltd, the company which owns Heathrow, would expect to get the lucrative contract. But Surinder Arora, a high profile Indian developer who owns land around Heathrow and is supported by

powerful interest groups such as British Airways - the airport's biggest user - is fighting to ensure bidding is by open competition. He also reckons he can cut the budget by £6 billion.

Asian origin MPs from the Conservative Party who backed the motion include: Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham), Sajid Javid (Bromsgrove), Ranil Jayawardena (North East Hampshire), Rishi Sunak (Richmond (Yorks), and Shailesh Vara (North West Cambridgeshire).

Among Labour MPs, who opposed the motion, were: Rosena Allin-Khan (Tooting), Preet Kaur Gill (Birmingham), Rupa Huq (Ealing Central and Acton), Imran Hussain (Bradford East), Lisa Nandy (Wigan), Valerie Vaz (Walsall South), and Mohammad Yasin (Bedford).

Labour MPs who supported the government include: Rushanara Ali (Bethnal Green and Bow), Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi (Slough), Afzal Khan (Manchester, Gorton), Khalid Mahmood (Birmingham, Perry Barr), Seema Malhotra (Feltham and Heston), and Virendra Sharma (Ealing, Southall).

There was no sign of Valerie Vaz's elder brother, Keith Vaz, Labour MP for Leicester East, in either lobby.

Some MPs think that instead of Heathrow, capacity in regional airports such as Birmingham and Manchester should be expanded.

The business case for Heathrow is well made but there is no doubt many homes will have to be knocked down and pollution levels could go up even with a new generation of cleaner aircraft.

Business groups are delighted with Monday night's vote.

Carolyn Fairbairn, director-general of the Confederation of British Industry, hailed a "truly historic decision" which will "open the doors to a new era in the UK's global trading relationships.

"The race for global competitiveness is well under way and the UK must now be quick off the mark. Work on the new runway should start as soon as possible. The prize is tens of thousands of jobs and billions of pounds of growth for the British economy."

Mike Cherry, chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses, insisted that "the debate is now over, it is time to build".

But a judicial review against the decision is being launched by four London local authorities affected by the expansion -

Wandsworth, Richmond, Hillingdon and Hammersmith and Fulham - in partnership with Greenpeace and London's Labour mayor Sadiq Khan.

Greenpeace UK executive director John Sauven said: "If ministers don't want to uphold the laws protecting us from toxic fumes and climate change, we're going to ask a court to do that."