From the time the Government published it aviation white paper three years ago Minister after Minister has stood up in the House of Commons to state categorically that the expansion of Heathrow could only go ahead if strict European limits on air pollution were met. This must have been said at least 20 times by Government ministers in response to questions by local MPs and environmentalists.
In order to get round the European limits the Government first tried to fix the assessment of the projected levels of emissions and air pollution estimated from a new runway and 6th terminal. They did this by setting up a modelling process which they claim was fully tested by a peer review process. Unfortunately this has been discredited by the revelation by air quality experts that the modelling process may have been peer reviewed but the information fed into this process was not independently peer reviewed. In fact we now know that the information fed into the process came from BAA, the owners of Heathrow airport. It is a classic case of rubbish in rubbish out.
Having failed to convincingly doctor the assessment process the Government and BAA alliance has now become desperate. So Minsters have now instructed DEFRA to apply to the European Commission for "derogation" from the EU air pollution limits. This means the Government is admitting Heathrow expansion will result in poisoning the air of large numbers of people in London and therefore it can't meet the EU air pollution safety standards.
Asking for derogation means asking the EU to exempt the Government from the EU pollution standards to allow Heathrow expansion to go ahead. Their argument is that an exemption will give the aviation industry time to come up with some miraculous cure for the air pollution it creates.
This will be seen by many as the most cynical act of bad faith by the Government.