Fresh blow for Theresa May as trade minister Greg Hands resigns over Heathrow
Theresa May has been plunged into a fresh crisis after a top minister resigned to vote against the Government on a third runway at Heathrow.
International trade minister Greg Hands announced he was quitting as it was confirmed that MPs will vote on the expansion of the airport on Monday.
He said he had been left with no option but to resign because all Tory MPs have been ordered to back the new runway.
Mr Hands said on Twitter: "As the Government will be whipping the vote on Monday, this means I am resigning from the Government.
"It has been an honour to serve the Prime Minister (and her predecessor) for the last 7 years and I wish the PM & the Government every continuing success."
The minister promised his constituents in the 2017 election campaign that he would "be voting against the proposal when it comes before Parliament".
His decision to quit piles pressure on Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who is also a longstanding critic of the Heathrow scheme.
It is understood that the Prime Minister has given him permission to be out of the country when the crunch vote takes place on Monday.
Mr Hands is the second Government minister to quit in the space of just two weeks, after Justice Minister Dr Philip Lee dramatically left the Government over his opposition to Brexit.
Labour said Mr Hands' shock decision to quit "piles the pressure" on the Foreign Secretary to do the same.
"Greg Hands' resignation piles the pressure on Boris Johnson who promised his constituents he would 'lie down in front of the bulldozers' to stop a third runway," Shadow Transport Secretary Andy McDonald said.
"Instead he is jetting off to Luxembourg on Monday to avoid the vote because he is too weak to stand by his promises.
"Labour opposes a third runway at Heathrow because it doesn’t meet our four tests and we are calling for a free vote for all parties on Monday."
It emerged yesterday that Labour would be officially opposing Heathrow expansion - but the party will not be whipping its MPs to support its stance, meaning they are free to back it.
Campaigners oppose the boost to Heathrow on environmental and noise grounds, with some MPs fearing serious disruption to local residents under the flight path.
But ministers have said a new runway is needed to create jobs and boost investment in the UK.
Downing Street said Mr Hands had "served the Government with great ability and distinction over several years, and we thank him for all of his work".
A Number 10 spokesperson added: "This government is committed to expanding airport capacity at Heathrow - this is an important decision which will play a crucial role in securing the future of global Britain."