Gareth Johnson – 2021 Speech on Road User Charging in Outer London

The speech made by Gareth Johnson, the Conservative MP for Dartford, in the House of Commons on 13 April 2021.

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to provide that the Mayor of London may not impose charges for driving in Outer London; and for connected purposes.

The Mayor of London’s financial stability plan, published in January, proposes a seven-days-a-week charge of £3.50 for all motorists using a vehicle registered outside Greater London, rising to £5.50 for the more polluting vehicles. Sadiq Khan is looking at building a literal financial wall between London and its neighbours. The proposal would divide communities and set Londoners against all others. It is quite literally a border tax. The Mayor of London’s proposal to charge drivers to enter Greater London would have a catastrophic impact on places like Dartford and all the areas surrounding London. It would also have a detrimental impact on outer London boroughs. Businesses located in outer London would suffer from people being reluctant to travel often the short distance across the border to use those businesses. That would have an impact on dry cleaners, pubs, takeaways, shops, hairdressers and more—exactly the businesses who are suffering the most from the coronavirus epidemic.

The Mayor of London claims this is necessary to offset the £500 million of road tax Londoners pay out each year and cannot keep, but no other area gets to keep the road tax that they pay, either—Dartford does not even get to keep the revenue from the Dartford crossing. Although it is true that Highways England does not own a great number of roads in London, it does not have many roads in other areas either; London is not alone in that respect. Londoners do drive on motorways and those motorways have to be paid for.

The Mayor of London claims that Transport for London has not had enough in subsidies. Even if you accept that argument—which I do not—the proposal for a border tax is completely the wrong approach. It is divisive, punitive and aggressive. It is as if the Mayor of London is saying, “Give us more money or look what I can do. I can ruin you. I can hit you financially and make you pay if I don’t get my way.” That is effectively what he is saying. This proposal sends out the clear message that, far from London being open, as the Mayor claims, it will be very much closed for motorists trying to enter the capital.

Every mayor around the country is trying to raise revenue. That is perfectly understandable but it should not be attempted on the back of blackmail that says, “Give me money or I will charge you to visit your loved ones. Give me money or I will charge you for dropping off relatives to the local railway station. I will charge you for using London’s small businesses. I will charge you just for driving out of your road.” That is not commendable; it is an abuse of power.

The Mayor said that the proposed charge will reduce pollution in the capital. This proposal has nothing whatsoever to do with pollution. Pollution in London is at its worst around the airports and in central London. It is not concentrated in outer London, so I do not understand why the Mayor of London seems to hate outer London so much.

The border around London is not neat. It does not run along major routes. Instead, it straddles residential roads. In Dartford, for example, we have residential roads that are based in Kent that people cannot leave without entering the London Borough of Bexley. We have a number of roads just like that, and we have roads where the border literally goes down the middle of them, so people leave the road in Kent and re-enter it in London. Many of my constituents would therefore face having to pay at least £3.50 a day just to drive out of their road. This proposal is for the charge to apply seven days a week, so that hundreds of my constituents and thousands of people around London would pay over £1,200 a year just to be able to drive each day out of the road where they live—£1,200 a year just to get out of their house. For thousands of others, it would mean a £3.50 charge just to visit loved ones, to drop a child off at school, to visit a hospital or to go to work.

So many frontline workers in London live in neighbouring counties. These are the people who keep London functioning. Over half of London’s police officers live outside the capital and the same applies to London firefighters. These people, whom Londoners rely on most, will be hardest hit by this proposal. They will be hit just for going to work.

Possibly the worst aspect of this whole proposal is that the Mayor wants to levy a charge on people to whom he is totally unaccountable. The people who would have to pay the daily charge cannot vote for the London Mayor. They cannot vote to remove Sadiq Khan or do anything to stop this charge; he knows it, and that is why he is targeting them. It is taxation without representation, taxation without accountability, and it needs to be stopped.

Dartford is not part of London. We are proud of our Kentish heritage, yet many people who are now Dartfordians used to live in London. Many Londoners move out to neighbouring counties. Many of us commute into London. There is a good relationship right now between London and the neighbouring counties, yet the Mayor of London wants to change all that. He wants to set London against its neighbours, but in doing so, he damages not just people who live outside London, but people who live inside London. It is no wonder that YouGov recently found that the majority of Londoners oppose this charge.

It is claimed that opposition to the proposal is timed to marry up with the London mayoral elections. Actually, the timing is completely down to the Mayor of London. He decided when to announce the proposal, he is responsible for the timing and he published the document setting it out just three months ago, so it is hardly surprising that we are having this debate at this time.

If the proposal goes ahead, it will have the most profound impact on Dartford and the other constituencies bordering London that we have ever seen. The decision will be taken by somebody over whom Dartfordians have absolutely no control. It is the most divisive issue ever conceived by a London Mayor and it needs to be stopped.