POLITICS
25/06/2018 22:15 BST | Updated 26/06/2018 08:39 BST

Heathrow Third Runway Gets Go-Ahead As MPs Vote To Back £14bn Plan, Protestors Stage Demo - And Boris Johnson Stays Away

May survives small Tory rebellion with Labour help, as SNP abstain

MPs have voted to give Heathrow Airport a controversial third runway - despite a last-ditch protest by environmentalists.

Theresa May’s plans to expand aviation capacity got the Parliamentary go-ahead as she won enough Labour backing to survive a small rebellion by London Tory backbenchers.

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson also stayed away from the Commons, staging a much-ridiculed, eleventh hour trip to Afghanistan to avoid having to break the Government whip on the vote.

The vote - by 415 to 119 - means that the expansion of Heathrow has cleared its main legislative hurdle as MPs approved the National Planning Statement (NPS) that paves the way for the £14bn construction project.

Following a ‘free vote’ allowed by Jeremy Corbyn, some 119 Labour MPs - including Shadow Cabinet ministers Ian Lavery, Jon Ashworth and Nick Brown - voted for the plans, with 94 against.

Just eight Tories voted against  - Justine Greening, Greg Hands, Zac Goldsmith, Bob Blackman, Sir David Amess, Adam Afriye, Matthew Offord and Theresa Villiers.

The green light follows decades of delays by both Labour and Tory-run governments, but green campaigners and others still plan to launch legal challenges that could further dog the propsals for years to come.

Just an hour before the vote, the main Commons chamber was put in security ‘lockdown’ as protestors staged a ‘lie-in’ in the Central Lobby, a part of the building open to the public.

They blocked off part of the building as they chanted loudly, but no arrests were made by police and they were released later.

A small Tory backbench rebellion by London-based MPs saw former minister Greg Hands, former Cabinet minister Justine Greening, Zac Goldmsith and others defy their party’s three-line whip.

But with the SNP deciding to abstain and Jeremy Corbyn granting a free vote to his MPs, despite the party officially opposing the expansion, the Prime Minister had a healthy majority for the plans.

Transport minister Jesse Norman, who wound up the debate for the government, said the SNP’s abstentions were “frankly risible” and Labour’s position was murkier than “mud from the Thames”.

Earlier, Boris Johnson was subject to repeated ridicule from all sides as he engineered a trip to Afghanistan at what was expected to be substantial cost to the taxpayer.

Johnson had previously vowed to “lie in front of the bulldozers” rather than see a third runway built. 

But under a deal with May, he was allowed to keep his job in the Cabinet as long as he didn’t vote against and confined his criticisms of the airport plan to his local newspaper.

During the Commons debate, Hands appeared to further jibe the Foreign Secretary as he told MPs that the vote was not just about Heathrow. “It’s about being true to your word” and to one’s constituents, he said.

“Where’s Boris?” Labour MPs yelled as Hands spoke.

The vote saw divisions in both the main parties, however, with many Labour MPs backing calls by unions like Unite and the GMB to support the airport expansion to protect jobs and boost regional links.

Earlier, pop star Ellie Goulding praised Labour shadow minister Matthew Pennycook for his own opposition to Heathrow, tweeting her approval.

Pennycook told HuffPost that he wasn’t aware of the singer songwriter being one of his constituents in his Greenwich and Woolwich seat.

Goulding also retweeted Ed Miliband, who under the last Labour government had halted Heathrow in order to set it tougher tests on air pollution and climate change.

Oliver Hayes, climate campaigner at 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.”

Greenpeace also said it was now ready to join a cross-party group of London councils and the city’s mayor Sadiq Khan in a legal challenge.

But John Holland-Kaye, chief executive of Heathrow, said it was “a great decision not just for Heathrow but for the country”.

Carolyn Fairbairn, CBI Director-General, added: “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.”

Adam Marshall, Director General of the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), said: “Finally! Business has been waiting years for decisive, cross-party action in the national interest - and decades for the expansion of our main gateway to the world. 

“Now that Heathrow expansion finally has a green light from Parliament, it must now proceed at pace. The sooner we see diggers in the ground, the sooner this decision will boost business confidence, supply chain companies and trade links around the world. 

“Amid growing uncertainty over Brexit, big decisions like this are needed to show our investors and trade partners that the UK remains open for business. Further bold moves on infrastructure, investment and connectivity must follow.”