Brown faces backbench rebellion over airport expansion

Opposition to government plans to expand Britain's key airports was mounting yesterday with the emergence of a major backbench rebellion, the threat of more direct action and the prospect of a fresh inquiry into the policy. Already 41 Labour MPs have signed a motion demanding a vote over the proposed construction of a third runway at Heathrow, enough to overturn the Government's majority.

In all, 97 MPs, including six former Labour ministers, have backed the motion. Climate change campaigners are also said to be planning to bring Heathrow's Terminal 1 to a halt next month by invading the check-in area.

Martin Salter, the Labour MP who tabled the motion, said: "There is widespread concern that much of the good work that the Government has done on environmental issues could undermined by this single decision." It also emerged that the expansion plans will come under renewed scrutiny by the Transport Select Committee.

"The Government must not forget the environmental factors, too," said a member of the committee yesterday.

A plea from the Competition Commission calling on the Government not to rule out an expansion of Gatwick airport has also cast doubt on the final go-ahead for Heathrow's third runway.

The Cabinet will be discussing its position on airport expansion over the Christmas recess. Hilary Benn, the Environment Secretary, has publicly expressed concerns about the environmental impact of a third runway and sixth terminal at Heathrow.

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