Boris Johnson – 2022 Answers at Liaison Committee (Airport Delays)

The answers given by Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister, at the Liaison Committee held in the House of Commons on 6 July 2022.

Huw Merriman: In the six minutes I have, Prime Minister, I want to talk to you about transport policy delivery—if you’re focused. I want to talk about rail, air and also road. Starting with rail, do you have all of the policy, and legal interventions and levers, that you need to end this rail strike?

The Prime Minister: Thanks very much, Huw. I call on the union barons and the railway companies to sort this out. I think that they should be able to do it. And I think that, yes, we probably do need a few more tools.

Q80 Huw Merriman: Specifically, what would they be?

The Prime Minister: I think that you could have minimum service levels; you could have ballot thresholds. And as you know, we are bringing in—I think we have already brought in—the provision for agency workers where that is necessary.

Now, that is not going to fix problems like train drivers; you are not going to get agency workers to drive a train. But the argument that I would make is that you need to modernise.

Q81 Huw Merriman: Let me again just focus on the levers, because I think that in the Conservative manifesto there was a line that said, “Only the Conservatives could get Brexit done”, a few more things, “and stop passengers being held hostage by the unions.” And that was with the introduction of that policy of minimum service levels. Yet that hasn’t been introduced.

The Prime Minister: It has not, but—

Q82 Huw Merriman: And people are being held hostage, which might be your view. Why did you not bring, with an 80-seat majority, that legislation through before the strikes started?

The Prime Minister: That is a very good question. And—

Q83 Huw Merriman: And the answer is?

The Prime Minister: And the answer is: we should have done it. The trouble was that we had a lot of covid stuff to deal with and I’m afraid it got pushed to the right, and I regret—

Q84 Huw Merriman: I thought you might say that, although there have been other things we have been able to do, notwithstanding covid. Okay, let me move on to airports. There has been massive disruption to the airports—people having their holidays cancelled at the last minute. Why wasn’t more done to stop airlines from putting more flights in place than they had the bandwidth of staff to deal with?

The Prime Minister: Well, the airlines should not be abusing passengers in the way that they have been, and I think there should be greater protections. But I think the—

Q85 Huw Merriman: But again, this is all, “There should be”. My question is: why hasn’t there been?

The Prime Minister: Because basically, we were trying to get any airlines flying at all. I mean, Diana has asked a very good question about passports, where we’re putting huge numbers of people to try and speed up the delivery of passports. We had a situation in which no airlines were moving at all. And we had to put £8 billion—as you will remember, Huw—into supporting the airline industry.

Q86 Huw Merriman: Indeed. But Gatwick, for example, has controlled the number of flights that will be able to fly out during July and August, because they can see the airlines are trying to fly at 2018 levels. They could see the number of staff coming on, so they have taken action. Other airports haven’t necessarily. The regulator—the Civil Aviation Authority—doesn’t have the power, up front, to implement these types of policies. Shouldn’t it have that power?

The Prime Minister: I am willing to be persuaded that it should.

Q87 Huw Merriman: Because when we put a report on that basis, the recommendation was rejected by Government on the basis that there wouldn’t be a proposal to give the regulator up-front powers to take action, including to help with compensation. Perhaps we can push him a bit more on that, if you are behind it—

The Prime Minister: Huw, I am going to have to look into what more powers we might need to take to get the airlines to behave responsibly towards their passengers. But I think the experience of the public is pretty wretched at the moment for all sorts of reasons, and they need to do much, much better.