Eurosceptic Tory leads demands, finds Ian Taylor

A committee of UK MPs called on the government to cut Air Passenger Duty (APD) on flights this week, labelling the tax “absurd”.

It is a demand repeatedly raised by airlines and travel firms and campaigned for by industry coalition A Fair Tax on Flying.

The call from a cross-party group of MPs came with a report putting the case for cutting the air tax by “at least 50%” and was commended by airlines.

All well and good? Well, no. The committee was the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Air Passenger Duty Reform – an oddly specific body.

Single-issue politics is perfectly legitimate, but this is faintly ridiculous. All-Party Parliamentary Groups (APPGs) are two a penny. The latest register of APPGs runs to 1,212 pages.

Some consider issues of genuine significance, others produce reports to suit particular interest groups – like this one.

The report includes a survey “of airlines currently operating in the UK”. This found “more than two-thirds would invest in new routes outside London and the southeast if APD was cut by 50% and 71% would invest more in existing routes”.

Well they would say that wouldn’t they?

The report does not say how many airlines took part in the SurveyMonkey study and the research is not appended to the report.

Can you see the Treasury doing anything based on such findings?

The press release with the report “urged the government to slash APD if it wants the economy to flourish after Brexit”.

It quoted the group’s chairman, Conservative MP Henry Smith, calling on the Chancellor “to remove this barrier to growth . . . to ensure Britain has a flying start to our post-Brexit future”.

Fair Tax on Flying campaign chair Simon McNamara, who is Iata’s UK and Ireland country manager, said: “As we leave the EU, the Chancellor must act decisively and cut APD.”

McNamara is a pleasant and knowledgeable man. I don’t know Smith, but I do know he is MP for Crawley i.e. Gatwick and that he is a long-time Eurosceptic who not only supports Brexit but supports a no-deal departure on October 31 which might do rather more damage to the sector than APD.

Smith was calling for a Brexit referendum before the government of David Cameron went ahead with one and at one point was rumoured to be planning to defect to UKIP.

Crawley voted by 58% to 42% for Leave in the 2016 Brexit referendum so Smith does at least represent his constituents – although the result was on a turnout of 73%, which means 42% of Crawley’s constituents backed Leave.

Smith hailed the result, saying: “I’m very proud of the majority of Crawley people.”

He supported Boris Johnson for prime minister, having opposed Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement, and voted against EU nationals’ right to remain in Britain post Brexit.

Smith has also voted against same sex marriage and raising disability benefit. He supports cuts in welfare and reducing housing benefit.

Does the aviation industry and A Fair Tax on Flying really want to be in bed with this man? It seems a poor way to present any kind of case on behalf of the industry and insulting to many people in it.