Boris Johnson is set to miss the crucial Commons vote on plans to expand Heathrow airport, it was revealed hours after a Tory minister resigned over the issue.
The foreign secretary - an outspoken critic of the scheme - is expected to be working abroad when MPs decide on Monday whether controversial plans to build a third runway at Britain’s biggest airport should go ahead.
Labour’s shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald accused Johnson of “jetting off to Luxembourg” because “he is too weak to stand by his promises”.
But Theresa May defended Johnson’s potential absence, saying he will be the “living embodiment of global Britain” while working abroad.
“He will be out there actually showing the UK’s continued presence around the world and the work that the UK continues to do around the world with our diplomacy, working on so many of the issues and challenges that we face across the world today,” the Prime Minister said during a Downing Street press conference on Thursday.
Her comments came after trade minister Greg Hands resigned from the government on Thursday morning over plans to extend Heathrow.
Hands, the MP for Chelsea & Fulham in West London, pledged to his constituents at the 2017 election to vote against any expansion.
He announced his resignation on Twitter on Thursday morning having earlier written to Theresa May to confirm he would stick by his promise.
Hands, who backed ‘Remain’ in the referendum, was appointed a minister in Liam Fox’s Department for International Trade when it was created in July 2016.
He had previously been Chief Secretary to the Treasury and Deputy Chief Whip under David Cameron’s leadership of the Conservative Party.
In his election campaign literature, Hands said he was opposed to the expansion of Heathrow “like Boris Johnson”.
The expansion of Heathrow is expected to be given the green light after Jeremy Corbyn decided to allow Labour MPs a free vote on the plans.
Labour’s decision follows big pressure from trade unions like Unite and the GMB, who have long campaigned for airport expansion as the key to more jobs in construction, travel and retail.
It also means that Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, whose London constituency is under the Heathrow flight path, can continue his opposition to the third airport.
Hands is the second minister to resign from May’s government this month. Just last week pro-EU MP Philip Lee quit as a justice minister in protest at the prime minister’s Brexit plan.