Boris Johnson will be allowed by Theresa May to oppose the Government’s policy on expanding Heathrow - but only in the pages of his local paper.
The bizarre exemption, swiftly dubbed ‘the Boris unsackability clause’, emerged as the Prime Minister gave the go-ahead to a third runway at the west London airport.
In what critics saw as a desperate bid to avoid having to kick her Foreign Secretary out of her Cabinet, May wrote to all ministers allowing a ‘waiver’ from collective responsibility on the policy.
Usually ministers resign or get the sack if they defy the Government’s official line on policy.
But the PM’s letter makes clear that those with ‘long-standing views’ on Heathrow will be given permission to speak out, if they write to her in person and agree not to repeat their view outside their own constituency.
In a further attempt to make life easier for the Foreign Secretary, it appeared that he would be allowed to be on ministerial duties out of the country when the crunch vote on Heathrow took place.
This is despite a three-line whip being imposed on all Tory MPs.
Government insiders confirmed that “just the one” minister had previously written to request the freedom to oppose the aviation plan, and that minister was Johnson.
Johnson, whose Uxbridge seat lies under the Heathrow flight-path, was the only minister to express his opposition in Cabinet on Tuesday.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman explained that the exemption would permit views to be stated in “local media” and not the in the House of Commons. The spokesman said:
“The PM has written to ministers today setting out the policy on collective responsibility for the Heathrow vote.
“The letter says that ministers will be permitted to restate long-standing views on the subject where their views are already a matter of public record and to pass on their views to local constituents if they are directly affected.
“However, given the Government made its ‘preference decision’ [to back Heathrow] over a year and a half ago, ministers will only be able to do this at a local level ie within their own constituencies and to local media.
“Any colleague who believes they fall into this category would be asked to write to the Prime Minister to seek approval for the waiver. The waiver is an exceptional arrangement which will only apply to those ministers who’ve previously expressed strong opinions or have a directly affected constituency.
“No minister will be permitted to campaign actively against the Government’s position nor publicly criticise or call into question the decision-making process itself. Ministers will not be permitted to speak against the Government in the House.”
But a Labour source hit back that the exemption proved just how the PM, who lost her Commons majority in her snap election blunder last year, was not in control of her own ministers.
“Boris once said he’d lie down in front of bulldozers. The only thing he’s prepared to do is lie down his principles for the sake of his career.
“This is ‘the Boris derogation’. He won’t resign and Theresa May can’t sack him.”
When pushed as to whether ‘local media’ would include a local newspaper website that could be read globally, or whether it included LBC or the London Evening Standard, the PM’s spokesman sidestepped the question.
The ‘waiver’ also suggests that if Johnson is interviewed by a national TV or radio station, he will have to clam up and cannot talk about Heathrow.