Boris Johnson insists quitting over Heathrow would have ‘achieved nothing'
Boris Johnson has stood by his decision to be out of the country for tonight’s crunch vote on a new runway at Heathrow airport - despite his long-standing opposition to the plan.
The Foreign Secretary has previously vowed to “lie down in front of the bulldozers” to stop the airport expansion - which will affect residents in his Uxbridge constituency - from going ahead.
But he hit back after being been widely ridiculed for ducking the vote with an overseas visit, telling his local Tory party that his resignation over the issue "would have achieved absolutely nothing".
In a letter to local councillors in his Uxbridge and South Ruislip constituency - revealed by the Evening Standard - Mr Johnson insisted that he remained firmly opposed the controversial airport expansion plan and said he would "continue to lobby colleagues from within government" to try and block it.
The Cabinet heavyweight said: "Some of my critics have suggested that I should resign over the issue. No doubt they have my best interests at heart.
"But it is clear from what is likely to be a large majority of MPs who are in favour of a third runway that my resignation would have achieved absolutely nothing."
He added: "On election night I promised with John McDonnell, the Labour MP, to lie in front of the bulldozers.
"In view of the very considerable difficulties that still face the third runway - its cost and the appalling air and noise pollution entailed by the project - I believe it will be a very long time before we have to make good on that pledge; if indeed a 3rd runway ever comes about."
Downing Street also sought to justify Mr Johnson’s absence this morning, saying it was "not uncommon for ministers to be slipped when they have business abroad".
Theresa May’s official spokesperson told reporters: "You're asking me the question 'is the Foreign Secretary an honourable man' and the answer would be yes."
The Cabinet heavyweight has faced stinging criticism from a string of senior Tory colleagues over the decision to absent himself from the vote, which has sparked splits on both the Conservative and Labour benches.
Health Committee chair Sarah Wollaston last night told Mr Johnson to “put his money where his mouth is”, while ex-work and pensions secretary Stephen Crabb has said the Foreign Secretary will have to “look his constituents in the eye” and explain why he will not be voting against the runway.
Meanwhile, Greg Hands - who quit the Government last week over his own opposition to a third runway - appeared to mock Mr Johnson on Twitter.
He said: "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."
However, Government whips remain confident that the third runway will get the backing of MPs tonight, despite several Conservatives preparing to defy the party line.
Labour is officially opposing the expansion plans, but the party’s MPs have been given a free vote on the issue, and scores are thought to be ready to back Heathrow expansion.
The party's leadership has argued that boosting the airport will torpedo Britain's chances of meeting climate change targets and cause noise and disruption to local reisdents.
But, writing for PoliticsHome, International Trade Secretary Liam Fox urged MPs across the House to support the new runway, arguing that better global transport links would be vital for post-Brexit Britain.
“The world’s most dynamic growing markets are no longer exclusively on our doorstep, but increasingly in Asia, Africa and South America,” he said.
“So when we are free to strike our own trade deals we will be free to target new markets in new nations, and set our own tariffs to ensure the flow of goods is unhindered by needless protectionism.
“It is the same opportunity our forebears saw and grasped. And it is one we must grasp as we exit the EU.
“But in this ever more connected global marketplace, speed and connectivity will be crucial in allowing British business to be truly competitive. And while our merchant navy remains the envy of the world, our biggest international port is now in land-locked West London.”