Grayling urges Heathrow unity as Johnson faces quit call over runway opposition

Chris Grayling made a plea for cross-party support for a third Heathrow runway ahead of a vote on "the biggest transport decision in a generation" that looks set to expose divisions in both main parties.

The spotlight will be on the whereabouts of the Transport Secretary's colleague Boris Johnson on Monday night when MPs decide whether to approve the expansion of Europe's busiest airport.

Mr Johnson, a long-term critic of a third runway, was challenged on Sunday by a Tory colleague to "put his money where his mouth is" and resign as Foreign Secretary over his opposition to the scheme.

Senior backbencher Sarah Wollaston said that Theresa May's decision to allow him to avoid her three-line whip in support of the Heathrow plan by going abroad "won't wash" and called on him to make a "principled decision" to stand down.

The Conservative row came as more than 40 Labour MPs said they would go against party policy and support the Government's decision.

The group whose constituencies span the country put their names to a letter to colleagues in the party urging them to support a project they say could create 180,000 jobs across the UK.

Labour is officially opposed to the expansion but Jeremy Corbyn has allowed MPs a free vote on a measure that is supported by trade unions.

On the even of the vote, Mr Grayling said that "thousands of new jobs and the country's ability to compete on an international stage and win new global trade" were at stake.

He said: "I hope colleagues from across the House will now put aside party and political differences to take a decision in the long-term national interest."

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.

AIR Heathrow

Mr Grayling outlined 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.

Speaking to the BBC's Westminster Hour on Sunday, Totnes MP Dr Wollaston pointed out that Greg Hands last week resigned as international trade minister to vote against the Heathrow whip.

She said: "I think this would be an opportunity for a colleague like Boris Johnson to actually put his money where his mouth is."

The resignation of Chelsea and Fulham MP Mr Hands put pressure on Mr Johnson, who once threatened to lie down in front of the bulldozers if the third runway was approved.

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.

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

On Sunday night Mr Hands, who went to Romania after stepping down, tweeted: "Great to arrive back in the UK at Luton Airport 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."

The number of opposition MPs prepared to vote for Heathrow suggests the Commons vote on Monday night should pass with some ease.

Over 40 Labour MPs to vote in favour of Heathrow Expansion ? on Monday: https://t.co/Owb4bpZvexpic.twitter.com/WXogympqz8

-- yourHeathrow (@yourHeathrow) June 24, 2018

Those who have signed the letter include many leadership critics, including Luciana Berger, John Mann, Mike Gapes and Wes Streeting, who argue it is right "in principle" to back a scheme that will create 180,000 jobs.

Meanwhile Labour frontbencher Jenny Chapman, shadow Brexit minister and MP for Darlington, said she would be voting with the Government.

"I have a small regional airport on the border of my constituency. They would benefit," she told the BBC's Westminster Hour.

Labour has previously said that the expansion plan failed to meet its four tests for support: increased capacity, CO2 reduction, minimised noise and shared benefits across the UK.

But the MPs disagreed, writing: "Monday night's vote is not a blank cheque - the huge benefits from expansion can only be achieved if Heathrow also meets stringent tests on air quality and noise.

"We will work to ensure legally binding safeguards are in place that will mean a new runway can only be built if it is environmentally sustainable."

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.

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

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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