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Where’s Boris? MPs mock Tories as former ministers criticise Heathrow plans

Labour MPs made light of the absence of Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson.

Shouts of “Where’s Boris?” could be heard in the Commons as former Tory ministers spoke out against Heathrow expansion plans.

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

Tory former transport secretary Justine Greening joined Mr Hands in speaking out, telling MPs the story of Heathrow was one of “broken promises, broken politics and broken economics”.

She said: “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.”

Later in the debate, Tory MP Adam Afriyie (Windsor) added his voice to those objecting, telling ministers Heathrow was “pulling a fast one” over the Department for Transport.

He said: “It really upsets me as a Conservative to sit on these benches and to see us all nodding our heads saying we should go ahead and create the most expensive airport in the world at which to land.”

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 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.”

Tory former minister Crispin Blunt backed Mr Grayling and warned there could be a “serious cost” to the UK economy if a third runway was rejected.

He said: “We have been fiddling around with this for 50 years one way and another and finally we have got to grasp this nettle and we do have make a decision. The economic lessons are there about the success of hub airports.”

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.

Conservative MP Colin Clark (Gordon) criticised the SNP’s decision to abstain, saying of Heathrow expansion: “It’s good for every single Scottish constituency, so why would you possibly block it?”

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