Chris Grayling has said he has “no idea” where Boris Johnson is as the foreign secretary is expected to dodge a vote on expanding Heathrow.
MPs will decide on Monday evening whether to give the green light to building a third runway at the airport.
Theresa May has ordered her MPs to vote in favour of the plan. But Johnson, who once said he would lie down in front of bulldozers to prevent construction, is conveniently out of the country.
Asked where the foreign secretary was, Grayling told BBC Radio 4′s Today programme: “I have no idea where Boris is, genuinely no idea where Boris is.”
The transport secretary added: “The prime minister has been very clear that there are people in the party who, for various reasons, have long held views about the airport and we are not going to whip those people into voting.”
Leading Tory backbencher Jacob Rees-Mogg also told LBC this morning he did not know where Johnson was. “I hear he’s on his travels,” he said.
Greg Hands, who resigned as a trade minister last week in order to vote against Heathrow expansion today, took a swipe at Boris on Twitter.
Senior Tory 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.
And former whip Stephen Crabb told BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour that Johnson would “need to look his constituents in the eye and explain where he was on the night of the Heathrow vote”.
The government is expected to win the vote and Grayling said he was “cautiously optimistic”.
“There is strong support across the political spectrum on this,” he said.
“It’s not usual for me to find myself campaigning on the same side as Len McCluskey of Unite but he is right in arguing that this is a project that can make a real difference to Britain, to jobs, to connections around the world and indeed to the whole UK because this is not simply a project for London and the south-east, the connections that we create through Heathrow benefit every part of the UK.”
Labour is officially opposed to the expansion but Jeremy Corbyn has allowed MPs a free vote.
The Opposition is split on the expansion with the trade unions and over 40 MPs in favour but John McDonnell and Jon Lansman, the founder off Momentum, opposed.
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.
Opponents of the expansion 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.