MPs vote in favour of third runway at Heathrow

Heathrow vote: Parliament vote to expand airport with massive majority

Nearly 120 Labour MPs voted with the government, helping ministers to overcome a small Tory rebellion

Lizzy Buchan
Political Correspondent
Monday 25 June 2018 23:21

MPs have backed divisive Heathrow expansion plans by a massive majority, in a decisive victory for Theresa May.

Scores of Labour MPs voted with the government to support proposals for a third runway at Heathrow, after Jeremy Corbyn offered his party a "free vote" on the issue, giving ministers the numbers to overcome a small Tory revolt.

Some eight Tories rebelled against the whip, including former ministers Greg Hands, Justine Greening and Theresa Villiers, while 119 Labour MPs backed the government, including shadow education secretary Angela Rayner and frontbenchers Holly Lynch and Sharon Hodgson.

The vote, which was won by 415 votes to 119, came despite an eleventh-hour protest from environmentalists, who prompted a lockdown of parliament's central lobby by lying on the floor and chanting.

The stunt by Vote No Heathrow appeared to reference Boris Johnson's infamous pledge to "lie down... in front of bulldozers" to prevent the expansion of the London airport, when he was elected as MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip in 2015.

However the foreign secretary faced calls to resign from fellow Tory MPs when he jetted off to Afghanistan for last-minute talks in order to avoid defying the three-line whip imposed by the government.

If present, Mr Johnson would have been forced to resign as senior ministers have to toe the government line under collective responsibility rules.

Business leaders hailed the vote as a "truly historic" moment, as they believe expanded air capacity will transform Britain's trading relationships and offer a major boost to the economy.

Yet critics warned that they were prepared to go to court over the potential environmental impact and accused the ministers of looking the other way "while the dashboard flashes red with warning lights".

Several Tory ministers spoke out against the government during the four-hour debate, including former international trade minister Greg Hands, who resigned from the government last week to oppose the third runway plans.

The Chelsea and Fulham MP said he "hasn't resigned willingly", 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 said 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."

Shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald set out Labour's official opposition where he hit out at Chris Grayling, the transport secretary, 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."

Despite claiming the Heathrow expansion failed to meet the party's key tests on noise, economic benefits and the environment, Labour allowed its MPs to have a free vote on the issue.

SNP transport spokesman Alan Brown said his party would abstain from voting, amid deteriorating relations between Westminster and Holyrood.

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."

Opening the debate, Mr Grayling said the new runway would "clear path to our future as a global nation in the post-Brexit world".

He said: "This is a really important moment in the history of this House and the history of this country."

The result prompted a wave of positive reaction from business leaders, who have long argued the need for greater capacity.

Carolyn Fairbairn, CBI director-general, said: "Fifty years in the making, this is a truly historic decision that will open the doors to a new era in the UK's global trading relationships.

"Parliament's approval to build the new runway at Heathrow will lift prosperity across the country and has long been seen as vital for firms, especially exporters.

"The race for global competitiveness is well under way and the UK must now be quick off the mark - work on the new runway should start as soon as possible. The prize is tens of thousands of jobs and billions of pounds of growth for the British economy."

However environmental campaigners hit out at the "climate-wrecking" runway and threatened to take the government to court over the plans.

Greenpeace UK executive director, John Sauven, said: "This Heathrow flight has failed all safety checks, yet ministers have boarded it anyway and persuaded a majority of MPs to go along with them. But we can't just look the other way while the whole dashboard flashes red with warning lights.

"The UK Government won't be able to tackle illegal levels of air pollution, never mind leaving a healthier environment to the next generation, if a new Heathrow runway is built.

"If ministers don't want to uphold the laws protecting us from toxic fumes and climate change, we're going to ask a court to do that."

The challenge will be launched by four London local authorities affected by the expansion - Wandsworth, Richmond, Hillingdon and Hammersmith and Fulham - in partnership with Greenpeace and mayor Sadiq Khan.

Oliver Hayes, of Friends of the Earth, said: “MPs who backed this climate-wrecking new runway will be harshly judged by history.

“The evidence on the accelerating climate crisis, which is already hitting the world’s most vulnerable people, is overwhelming – and expanding Heathrow will only intensify the misery.”

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