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Sat, 28 March 2020

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Boris Johnson under fire from Tories for leaving country as MPs brace for Heathrow vote

Boris Johnson under fire from Tories for leaving country as MPs brace for Heathrow vote
4 min read

Boris Johnson has been slammed by his Tory colleagues for missing today's crucial vote on Heathrow expansion despite his long-standing opposition to the plans.

The Foreign Secretary - who once pledged to "lie down in front of the bulldozers" to stop a third runway at the airport - is out of the country in an undisclosed location and will not be attending today's vote.

The move to duck the Heathrow decision drew fire from a string of senior Conservatives, with Sarah Wollaston saying Mr Johnson should quit the Government "on a point of principle".

"Just being conveniently out of the country I’m afraid won’t wash," the Health Committee chair told the BBC's Westminster Hour.

Ms Wollaston added: "I think this would be an opportunity for a colleague like Boris Johnson to actually put his money where his mouth is."

Greg Hands, who last week resigned over his own opposition to Heathrow expansion, also took a thinly-veiled swipe at Mr Johnson, tweeting: "Great to arrive back in the UK in time for the match today and to vote against Heathrow expansion tomorrow. I wouldn’t want to be abroad for either of those. #commitments."

Former Work and Pensions Secretary Stephen Crabb - who is himself backing the plans - meanwhile told the BBC that Mr Johnson would "need to look his constituents in the eye and explain where he was on the night of the Heathrow vote".


Ministers are expecting 12-18 Conservative MPs to vote against the third runway proposal today, Government sources told the Telegraph, but up to 100 Labour MPs look likely to back it.

However, the vote could still be tighter than expected after the SNP - which had previously given its support to the plans - indicated it would now abstain or oppose the runway.

Citing a lack of detail from ministers, a senior SNP source told the BBC: "The Government might well find out on Monday that they have run out of goodwill from the SNP over this.

"They have only themselves to blame for that."

Labour is meanwhile officially opposed to the new runway, but Jeremy Corbyn has allowed his MPs a free vote on the issue.

The leadership says the plans have failed to meet Labour's "four tests", which include concerns a new runway will trash CO2 reduction commitments and cause disruption and noise to local residents.

But both the Unite and GMB unions are in favour of Heathrow expansion, and more than 40 Labour MPs have already put their names to a letter vowing to "secure strong cross-party backing" for the airport boost.

Unite boss Len McCluskey, whose union represents thousands of Heathrow staff, has today written to all Labour MPs calling on them to back the plans.

"We urge you to make the right choice," he said in the letter seen by the Guardian. "Your action in the next few days matter to us."

Former Transport Minister and Labour peer Lord Adonis told the BBC last night: "The overwhelming majority of Labour MPs are in favour and many of them see it as vital economically."

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling this morning urged MPs across the House of Commons to vote in favour of the new runway after "nearly half a century" of delay.

Writing in the Telegraph, Mr Grayling said: "We need to demonstrate clearly that our future lies very much at the heart of the world stage.

"There is no better way of doing that than by finally taking the decision to equip our hub airport with the capacity it needs for that future."

Ministers came under fire over the weekend, however, as it emerged that a key Government-commissioned report warning that aviation could scupper the UK's chances of meeting climate change targets will not be published until after MPs vote today.

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