Budget 2021: Rishi Sunak denies air duty cuts will spark flying boom

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Media caption, Sunak defends climate credentials after cut to air passenger duty announced

The chancellor has denied that changes to air passenger duty will lead to a boom in domestic flights amid warnings it will increase carbon emissions.

Rishi Sunak used his Budget to slash taxes on flights between airports in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Labour's shadow chancellor said it was "astonishing", coming a week before the COP26 climate summit.

Rachel Reeves said people should be encouraged to use trains instead.

Flying within the UK will become cheaper with air passenger duty halved, but the chancellor is also increasing duties on "ultra long haul" flights.

Mr Sunak told MPs on Wednesday that he was removing an anomaly that meant people were taxed more to fly in the UK than to Europe.

But it has led to accusations from opposition politicians and environmentalists that thousands more people will take to the skies, at a time when ministers are urgently trying to tackle climate change.

SNP Westminster leader, Ian Blackford, called the move a "disgrace" and urged the chancellor to scrap it.

He said it proved "this is not a government that understands the climate challenge that we all face" because "the fact is that C02 emissions per mile are much higher on domestic flights than they are on long-haul flights".

Image source, Alexander Shcherbak

Image caption, Emissions from flying are set to rise rapidly over the next two decades

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Mr Sunak said it was important to look at the decision "in the round", alongside the introduction of a new, higher tax band for "ultra long-haul flights".

He said he wanted to deliver on a previous commitment to reform air passenger duty, "to return to the system that we used to have, so people flying within the UK are not taxed twice, which we never thought was right".

He added: "It supports the Union, it supports regional airports which are big employers but also, if you take a step back, aviation in general only accounts for about 7 or 8% of our overall carbon emissions and of that, I think domestic aviation is less than 5% so it is a tiny proportion."

He said he did not accept claims that the move would lead to 400,000 more domestic flights a year.

Labour said it would not have gone ahead with the cut.

Rachel Reeves told Today she found it "astonishing that, the week before COP26, where we are supposed to be showing global leadership, we have cut air passenger duty on domestic flights".

She added: "We should be encouraging people to use our train network for those journeys.

"As I said yesterday, if you are a banker on a short haul flight sipping champagne you would have been cheering in the budget yesterday.

"If you are on a modest income and you are worried about the rising cost of living, frankly there is very little to cheer."

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