Evening Standard comment: The next PM must get on and build at Heathrow; Facebook’s new money; A Serpentine summer

EVENING STANDARD COMMENT
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Evening Standard comment: Boris v Major: the civil war at the heart of the Tories

When John Major was prime minister he was assailed by young Right-wing newspaper columnists who thought they could do the job better than him. We’re about to see whether one of them is right. Boris Johnson was a scourge of the Major administration as the Brussels correspondent of a national paper. He invented a new form of Eurosceptic journalism. Instead of reporting on “boring” European summits, he would dig around in some Brussels directive and discover that the EU was about to ban the British pork pie or insist on only straight “continental” bananas. It was easy to understand, funny, and sometimes it was even true. It inflamed the emerging divisions in the Tory party over Europe, and contributed to the misery of Mr Major.But what goes around comes around. Twenty-two years later it is Mr Johnson who is about to occupy Downing Street, and the now Sir John Major who is preparing to make his life very difficult. The former premier has this morning said he would be prepared to support a judicial review against the new premier were he to ask the Queen to prorogue Parliament. The fact this even emerges as an issue shows what a twist of contradictions the Brexiteers have landed themselves in. In order to further what they claim is the cause of restoring parliamentary sovereignty, they are now contemplating suspending Parliament. It sounds like the kind of thing the pigs in Animal Farm would say.The fact we’ve ended up here is because of the central point that neither contender for the Tory leadership is prepared to acknowledge: there is no majority in Parliament for leaving the EU without a deal, and never has been. Either the new prime minister can win the backing of MPs for a negotiated exit that will look near-identical to one Mrs May failed to pass, or we are heading for a further delay — and a referendum or general election to break the impasse. Those are the simple facts of parliamentary arithmetic. Attempting to throw away the calculator by proroguing Parliament won’t work — something this paper has repeatedly pointed out.The first line of defence is the Speaker and the majority of MPs, who will quite properly find existing devices to secure sittings — as they did yesterday and will do in the coming weeks. The second line of defence are the judges, who will almost certainly act (as they did in 2017) to defend the basic principle of our unwritten constitution that the government acts only with the will of the majority of the House of Commons. It would be very unwise for a new prime minister with barely a majority, no honeymoon and plenty of opposition to run these ramparts. If he does, it will cost him his head. That is literally what happened to Charles I in the 1640s when he tried to prorogue Parliament — and he was defeated by the then MP for Huntingdon, Oliver Cromwell. That is what will happen metaphorically to Boris Johnson more than three centuries later if he tries the same trick. He too may meet his end by the man from Huntingdon — for that was also Sir John’s constituency — and plunge his party further into civil war. Rebuilding bridges Hammersmith Bridge is in a rotten state. The people of south-west London have known that for years. What they are finding out today, as we report, is that the emergency closure which began in April may never fully end . The bridge wasn’t very well built or designed in the first place, it’s seen heavy use and the IRA have tried three times to blow it up. As a result it isn’t strong enough to carry cars or buses, which leaves part of south-west London partly isolated. There are hardly any alternative routes, and those that exist are clogged.It’s shocking that there’s no plan and no money in place to repair or replace it. It’s been obvious for decades that the crossing needs sorting out but Hammersmith and Fulham council, which owns it, hasn’t seen it as a priority, and Transport for London, which ought to help, is only getting involved now. London is pouring billions into other parts of its transport system. It can’t afford to let its bridges fall down.

Seven years after the Airports Commission began work, six years since it said a new runway in the South-East was essential, four years since it picked Heathrow unanimously as the only suitable location, three years since the Government agreed and one year since MPs overwhelmingly backed expansion in a Commons vote after a Cabinet decision in favour of it, the debate over London’s airport capacity has been settled democratically and at length.

It is time to get building.

Today, Heathrow has issued detailed plans not just for the runway itself but on how it will manage the extra passengers who will use it, improve the areas around it and deal fairly with the impact of construction.

It proposes a longer block on night flights, an expanded Ultra Low Emissions Zone to reduce the impact of road use on air quality, compensation for home owners whose properties will be lost and a masterplan for the area which would see more green space, cycle routes and new rail links.

It is a responsible way to get on with a necessary project — and over the next 12 weeks the public will be able to give its views in a consultation.

We think they are good plans for the right project in the right place.

That does not mean everything has been sorted. Questions over what the scheme will cost and how it will be financed is still to be settled.

Heathrow’s big customer, British Airways, is adamant that any increase in landing charges, already some of the highest anywhere, must be justified — and if Britain is to remain at the heart of the world’s most competitive aviation network, that’s correct.

The Civil Aviation Authority, which regulates charges and investment, has a challenging choice ahead.

But it is clear that a growing airport can fund the scheme and with Government backing the new runway can be ready for the first flights to land in 2026.

At a moment when Britain’s openness to the world is being tested by Brexit, that needs to happen.

Will Britain’s next Prime Minister agree? He will inherit a project that has already been agreed and is well under way.

If that Prime Minister is Boris Johnson, as is overwhelmingly likely, he might be tempted to revive the opposition to Heathrow expansion he led as London’s Mayor. That was a battle he did not win, because Heathrow turned out to be the best option.

Later on, he stayed in the Government when it backed a third runway and made himself absent rather than vote against it.

Mr Johnson is no longer the Mayor of London, nor is he simply the MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip. He aspires to be our national leader and that means stepping up and taking decisions in the national interest.

The next Prime Minister will face many difficult choices in their first Red Box. Stopping Heathrow is not one of them.


Facebook’s new money

Until now cryptocurrencies — digital forms of money, issued by groups rather than national governments — have been for daredevils only, unstable, unregulated and unpredictable.

Their value has soared and crashed. You wouldn’t use them to buy a pint of milk. That’s why some have claimed they will never catch on.

Today Facebook has set about proving them wrong.

It’s a fight we think Facebook will win. Not just because it’s a global economic power, with more than two billion active users around the world, and will back its new currency with real assets linked to existing currencies.

But because digital money is already powering ahead in China and the world is looking for an alternative to the dollar.

We may be about to find it.


A Serpentine summer

Today the Serpentine Gallery unveils another brilliant summer pavilion, by the Japanese architect Junya Ishigami.

A lot of credit for the Serpentine’s ongoing success goes to Yana Peel, its chief executive until today. Sadly she’s stepping down after personal online attacks.

She’s done a great job and will be missed.