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MPs urged to back Heathrow expansion as arch-critic Johnson swerves vote

The third runway will be voted on by the Commons but the Foreign Secretary has been allowed to go abroad to sidestep a three-line whip

MPs have been urged to put aside party politics and approve a third runway at Heathrow Airport, a vote likely to expose high-profile divisions in both Tory and Labour ranks.

The spotlight will be on the whereabouts of Boris Johnson before and during Monday’s Commons vote on whether to increase capacity at Europe’s busiest airport.

The Foreign Secretary, a long-term vocal opponent of the expansion, will make a trip abroad that will keep him away from the division lobbies as other Conservatives face a three-line whip in favour of the plan.

There are also expected to be votes going either way in Labour, which is officially opposed to the expansion.

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The new runway would increase capacity at what is already Europe’s busiest airport (PA Graphics)

Jeremy Corbyn has allowed MPs a free vote on a measure that is supported by trade unions and his shadow chancellor John McDonnell, whose Hayes and Harlington constituency is nearby.

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling urged MPs of all parties to back “the biggest transport decision in a generation”.

He said: “Successive governments have wrestled with the issue of Heathrow expansion, but never before has Parliament held a vote on this project.

“At stake are thousands of new jobs and the country’s ability to compete on an international stage and win new global trade.”

He made five pledges over the Heathrow expansion:

– No cost to taxpayers
– An economic boost providing 100,000 jobs
– Guaranteed benefits for the whole country including internal flights, rail links and “global opportunities” for regional firms.
– Built-in environmental protections
– The ability to fine Heathrow or ground aircraft if Heathrow breaks its own promises over the scheme.

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Boris Johnson will be abroad ‘as the living embodiment of global Britain’ when the vote takes place (Matt Cardy/PA)

The long-running saga over whether to expand Heathrow or Gatwick – or build a new airport as wanted by Mr Johnson – has already sparked resignations in the Conservative Party.

Richmond MP Zac Goldsmith quit as an MP in October 2016 in protest at Government support. He stood as an independent in a by-election, but lost to Lib Dem Sarah Olney before rejoining the Tories and retaking the seat at the 2017 general election.

And last week, Chelsea and Fulham MP Greg Hands quit as international trade minister to oppose the airport expansion.

That move in the face of a three-line whip put pressure on Mr Johnson. But Mrs May last week confirmed he would miss the vote by being “the living embodiment of global Britain” abroad.

The Government has so far declined to say where Mr Johnson will be on security grounds.

The Commons vote coincides with a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg, but Sir Alan Duncan is set to be the UK’s representative there.

Mrs May told reporters last week: “The Foreign Secretary early next week will be what I would describe as the living embodiment of global Britain.

“He will be out there actually showing the UK’s continued presence around the world and the work that the UK continues to do around the world with our diplomacy, working on so many of the issues and challenges that we face across the world today.”

International Trade Secretary Liam Fox, speaking to Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday, said: “The Foreign Secretary is regularly out of the country, probably the only person more than myself who is required to be away to do their job. I’ll happen to be there, but I was away last week.”

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The scheme has been opposed over environmental and noise concerns (Steve Parsons/PA)

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 to speak against it in the Commons.

Ahead of the vote, officials said the expansion of Heathrow would create 114,000 extra jobs in the area around the airport by 2030, with an extra 16 million long-haul seats by 2040.

It would represent the first full-length runway in the south east since the Second World War, the Department for Transport said.

Opponents have attacked the scheme on environmental, noise and financial grounds grounds, with Friends of the Earth saying it was “morally reprehensible” and would see the enlarged Heathrow emitting as much carbon as the whole of Portugal.

Greater Manchester’s Labour mayor Andy Burnham urged the Prime Minister to guarantee funding for transport projects in the north – including rail – saying the Government’s “focus has drifted southwards once again”.

He said that the Brexit referendum had been a “clear instruction from the British people to rebalance our economy and our country”, adding: “The great risk of pressing ahead with the expansion of Heathrow is that it does the exact opposite.

“It could suck more activity and investment into the capital and leave the north waiting even longer for its promised Northern Powerhouse.”

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