Air Passenger Duty is regressive and anti-business and anti-consumer; it should by cut as a much needed boost for Brexit Britain
About this time every year, my Texan wife and I glance at the calendar and realise, with dread, that the time has come to book plane tickets to the States for Christmas. To be clear, the dread has nothing to do with seeing my in-laws, whom I love very much – no, what ties my stomach in knots every autumn is the nagging question of how much money the British government intends to extort from me for the privilege of flying away from this rainy island for a couple of weeks of Texas sunshine.
Every year, Air Passenger Duty – that invidious, regressive, anti-business tax – creeps upward. And while the government may deign to excuse certain people from this extortion (children under sixteen were made exempt this year, in a blaze of self-congratulatory glory), for the rest of us APD keeps on inching upward. At a time when falling oil prices should mean that air fares reach historic lows, in Britain at least the cost of air travel is kept artificially high thanks to this ill-conceived tax – by far the highest in the developed world.
And why? Primarily as a sloppy wet governmental kiss to environmentalists, who some time ago decided that nothing poses a greater threat to the Earth than a working class person enjoying a holiday in Florida, or taking a cheap excursion to one of the sunnier parts of Europe. Air Passenger Duty is nothing so much as the collective howl of outrage from well-heeled leftist environmentalists that poor people are forgetting their place (i.e. receiving benefits and being thankful for them) and daring to travel the world as wealthy people did before them.
Remember the leftist credo, everybody: Fashionable celebrities flying private jets to Davos to moralise about carbon emissions made by the rest of us = good. Nasty working class folk flying Ryanair for a fortnight in Lanzarote or a stag weekend in Riga = bad.
Now that the government has taken the painful and very belated decision to proceed with the expansion of London’s Heathrow Airport (something which should have happened a long time ago) there will be inevitable calls for punishing new environmental levies to offset the terrible “damage” that is supposedly wrought when the state takes its jackboot off the throat of the aviation industry. There will likely be calls to raise Air Passenger Duty even further to help pay for this crucial national investment, even though the exorbitant tax already places Britain at a huge comparative disadvantage.
The government must resist any and all calls to raise APD. In fact, there could be few clearer signs that this government is committed to championing UK aviation and supporting the economy through the uncertainty of Brexit than a bold, dramatic cut in Air Passenger Duty from the current level of £13 short haul / £ 73 long haul / £146 premium cabin rates back down to the single digits. When my wife and I connect in Houston or Dallas Fort Worth on our way from London to the Rio Grande Valley, we pay the state of Texas no more than a few dollars for the privilege of transiting through DFW or George Bush Intercontinental airport – and both of those hubs put London’s Heathrow and Gatwick to shame.
At a time when the government is considering cutting Corporation Tax as low as 10% as an incentive to firms to invest, grow and remain in the United Kingdom, we should not be discouraging business executives and holidaymakers (72% of whom come to the UK by air) from choosing Britain by mugging them before they even step off the jet bridge. Cutting Corporation Tax is great, but the government should not forget individuals, who currently labour under all manner of punitive stealth taxes and would greatly welcome the relief. Neither should the government forget the aviation industry, which is every bit as vital as shipping to an island nation, and which for too long has been stymied and suppressed by cowardly politicians who refused to take critical decisions in the national interest.
With the long-overdue decision to build a third runway at Heathrow Airport, the government has finally called an end to years of dithering and inaction and made a necessary decision in support of the economy. But the benefits of this decision could yet be killed in the crib unless Britain also signals its intention to stop being the high-tax, anti-aviation country which prioritises impractical, virtue-signalling environmentalism over necessary infrastructure investment and tax reform.
There is no earthly reason why you or I should have to pay £73 for the privilege of taking off from Heathrow Airport, whether it has two runways or three. And if Theresa May and Philip Hammond are serious about signalling that Britain is open for business then slashing this one small but immensely harmful tax would be a great place to start.
The views expressed in this article are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Conservatives for Liberty