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Johnson under pressure after minister quits over Heathrow expansion

The Foreign Secretary is facing calls to join Greg Hands and vote against a third runway in a Commons showdown.

A Government minister has quit over plans for a third runway at Heathrow Airport following confirmation Tory MPs will not be given a free vote on the issue.

International Trade Minister Greg Hands said he was standing down in order to honour a pledge to his west London constituents to oppose expansion of the airport when it comes to the Commons on Monday.

His decision immediately turned the spotlight onto Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson who has been a long-standing and vocal opponent of a third runway.

Labour challenged him to stand by his principles and join Mr Hands in voting against the measure – even if it cost him his position in the Government.

The Commons vote coincides with a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg, potentially offering an excuse for Mr Johnson to stay away and avoid a clash.

However it was unclear whether he will be at the gathering.

A writtten ministerial statement said Foreign Office Minister Sir Alan Duncan planned to attend the meeting in Luxembourg, with no mention of Mr Johnson.

Shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald said it would be “weak” if the Foreign Secretary chose to be out of the country so as to retain his job.

“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,” he said.

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Boris Johnson is facing calls to vote against Heathrow expansion (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Mr Hands announced his decision to stand down in a series of Twitter postings.

He said he had written to Theresa May explaining that he intended to honour a pledge to his Chelsea and Fulham constituents at last year’s general election to vote against a third runway.

“As the Government will be whipping the vote on Monday, this means I am resigning from the Government,” he wrote on Twitter.

“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.”

Following the announcement earlier this month that the Government intended to press ahead with a third runway, Downing Street indicated ministers with long-standing objections would be able to voice their opposition at a “local level” but would not be permitted speak against it in the Commons.

There was widespread speculation a reason would be found for Mr Johnson to be abroad when it came to the vote so he would not be required to go through the division lobbies in support in line with collective ministerial responsibility.

Ahead of the vote, officials said the expansion of Heathrow would create 114,000 extra jobs in the area around the airport by 2030.

Aviation Minister Baroness Sugg said: “A third runway at Heathrow would bring benefits of up to £74 billion to passengers and the wider economy, creating tens of thousands of local jobs in the process.

“It is easy to take these benefits for granted but our latest illustration, showing expansion would create enough jobs to fill well over 600 passenger jets, spells out just what MPs will be voting for.

“This massive project will bring fantastic opportunities for UK businesses, workers and apprentices and we cannot afford to wait any longer to push ahead with it.”

The Government also signalled it would make sure the extra capacity helped protect domestic routes.

Public service obligations would protect routes if required, which would also exempt them from air passenger duty.

Lady Sugg said: “About 15% of the new capacity will be used for flights to destinations within the UK or crown dependencies.”

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