Per-flight tax pledge just another per-day coalition failure

There has been yet another coalition u-turn - this time over the per-flight tax pledge, reports the Fabian Society's Natan Doron.

Natan Doron is a research assistant at the Fabian Society; he has recently completed an MSc in Environment & Sustainable Development at University College London

Late last year Left Foot Forward reported that the Lib Dems had scrapped their election pledge on removing the Air Passenger Duty (APD) which they felt was unfair to Caribbean voters in Sarah Teather’s constituency. Clearly the Liberal Democrats breaking election promises is not news, but this coalition is the self-proclaimed “greenest government ever”. That is why the coalition agreement promised, amongst many things, to replace APD with a per-flight duty.

The noble idea was that by taxing each flight as opposed to each passenger, airlines would be encouraged to stop running half-empty flights by making sure that every flight was as full as possible. One of those classic win-win policies for environment and business gains.

Channel 4, however, have broken the news that this promise is being moved into the column titled ‘broken’. The reasoning is that this coalition promise contradicts European Union law. Which law in particular is unclear, but the problem is that this sets up the perfect Tory-led coalition excuses to use on one of their flagship green policies:

‘We wanted to do it but Brussels won’t let us.’

Such excuses will not wash when Mr Osborne fails to announce the policy in his budget.

Neither the per-plane tax nor the reasoning of being constrained by EU law are very new. As set out quite clearly in this parliamentary briefing from June 2010, Alistair Darling had already proposed the policy, explored it and concluded that it wouldn’t be possible.

In January 2010 during a house of commons debate, former Exchequer Secretary Sarah McCarthy-Fry explained:

“We have not yet found a solution within the constraints of the law. The area is not straightforward; it is a very complex area of European and international law.”

For this reason, Darling and his team made it clear that bringing aviation into the EU ETS would be a more effective and efficient way of actually reducing emissions from aviation. This episode has a number of political morals but the main one is that one shouldn’t hold out too much hope of progress from the coalition on green issues; what we should expect are more broken promises.

Aviation is consistently proving to be one of the trickiest policy areas with little room for manoeuvre amongst business and environmental concerns, let alone the attitudes of a public who enjoy flying and are quite keen to carry on. With Boris Johnson clearly intent on figuring out where he can build his new airport, the title of “greenest government ever” will only appear more ridiculous as time goes on.

8 Responses to “Per-flight tax pledge just another per-day coalition failure”

  1. John Turner

    RT @leftfootfwd: Per-flight tax pledge just another per-day coalition failure: writes @NatanDoron

  2. Natan Doron

    RT @leftfootfwd: Per-flight tax pledge just another per-day coalition failure: writes @NatanDoron

  3. Martin Johnston

    RT @leftfootfwd: Per-flight tax pledge just another per-day coalition failure: writes @NatanDoron

  4. Mr. Sensible

    Well Natan we already know from the Observer last week that the ‘Greenest Government Ever’ has admitted that it is failing to live up to all the hipe…

    On the substance of the issue though, an unintended consequence of such a measure which I think supporters of it have yet to address is the increased risk of double-bookings in order to fill aircraft. This could leave passengers somewhat short changed.

    In that regard I have serious reservations about replacing air passenger duty with such a measure.

  5. Stephen W

    So you admit that this is an EU problem, and then you bang on at the Coalition.


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