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MPs ask ‘Where’s Boris?’ during Heathrow debate

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who has outlined his opposition to Heathrow expansion, is visiting Afghanistan.

Shouts of “Where’s Boris?” emerged as a Tory MP who resigned from the Government over Heathrow expansion urged colleagues to join him in opposing the project.

Opposition MPs mischievously mocked the absence of Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, an anti-expansion campaigner who is visiting Afghanistan, as former international trade minister Greg Hands outlined his frustrations at the Government’s support for a third runway at Heathrow.

Mr Hands (Chelsea and Fulham) said he “hasn’t resigned willingly” as he enjoyed his seven years in Government, adding: “I am also surprised to be resigning from the Government as I had always been led to believe this would be a free vote.

“However, I always knew I would vote against this proposal. For me in particular I made an unequivocal pledge at the 2017 general election.”

The shouts of “Where’s Boris?” could be heard from some on the Labour benches before Mr Hands said: “It’s also a debate about being true to your word and to your election pledges.”

Mr Hands raised concerns over issues including flight paths and night flights before telling the Commons: “I think this proposal is fundamentally flawed.

“But this vote is also about integrity and about the pledges we make to our electors. It is to be regretted it’s now not a free vote but I urge colleagues to vote against this proposal tonight.”

Shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald earlier outlined Labour’s official opposition to Heathrow expansion, criticising Transport Secretary Chris Grayling for making “a complete shambles of a vital national project”.

He said: “The Government hasn’t done the work to support the development of this project, the Government’s case is riddled with gaps and fundamentally flawed.

“Yet again this Secretary of State has made a complete shambles of a vital national project, yet again he is not putting the relevant facts before Parliament.”

Mr McDonald added: “Mismanaging airport expansion as he has elsewhere in transport presents much, much bigger risks with immensely more serious consequences.

“The Transport Secretary has consistently demonstrated poor judgment and reliance on incomplete, unreliable and non-existent evidence.

“Yet he stands here today and expects the House to take his word for it, to take a leap of faith with him.”

Mr McDonald told MPs that the Labour Party was not against expansion, but against “this option”, adding: “The north-west runway is too risky and it may be illegal.”

Labour has allowed its MPs a free vote on the National Policy Statement on Airports.

Opening the debate, Mr Grayling described the vote as a “really important moment in the history of this House and the history of this country”.

He added: “If the House endorses the proposed National Airports Policy Statement today, it will move on from decades of debate and set to my mind a clear path to our future as a global nation in the post-Brexit world.”

Mr Grayling said he recognised it was a “divisive” debate but noted there is strong support across the Commons for a “really important step for our nation” and stressed the need for a new runway in the South East, telling MPs: “Heathrow is full today.”

The SNP’s transport spokesman Alan Brown said he would abstain from the vote.

He told the Commons: “I’ve been supportive to date and I certainly won’t back against these proposals because what I hope the opportunities are for Scotland, but given the fact the UK Government cannot and will not provide these guarantees I also cannot unfortunately vote with the Government.”

Mr Brown said he wanted guarantees for the number of domestic flight slots at Heathrow, leading Mr Grayling to intervene to say the airport had agreed with the SNP and the Scottish government that it is prepared to set aside 200 slots for connections to Scotland.

The Transport Secretary later said: “The SNP’s view is because it’s not sure how big its bit of the cake is going to be, there should be no cake.”

Mr Brown said he had also spoken up for other regional airports.

Later in the debate, Tory former transport secretary Justine Greening said the story of Heathrow was one of “broken promises, broken politics and broken economics”.

She said: “The ultimate promise broken was when the fifth terminal got planning permission, there was then an express condition to local people of no third runway, and look at where we are today.

“The bottom line is any assurances in the development consent order literally are not worth the paper they’re written on.”

Ms Greening went on to hit out at the Department for Transport’s “flawed” approach to the decision.

She said: “Consultations which are never, I repeat never, listened to.

“The airport commission getting its numbers wrong, MPs given erroneous impressions around the impact on regional airports, Government having to reissue the draft MPS because its numbers were incorrect, parliamentary questions not properly answered in the very short time MPs have had since this statement was first made to ask them.

“People simply get ignored in this process, you actually have to be either a big business or I think a big union before your voice counts and that is totally unacceptable.”

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