Liberal Democrat Leader Vince Cable has challenged Transport Secretary Chris Grayling to allow the Conservatives a free vote over the expansion of Heathrow.
Grayling fudged his response to Vince's challenge*, which occurred in yesterday's Commons session following the Minister's statement on the subject. The fudge suggested that the Conservatives will try to impose a three-line whip on an issue that badly divides his party.
This would open up huge divisions in the Cabinet. It has been reported that Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson will be ‘conveniently abroad’ at the time of the vote so that he will not be available to vote against expansion and therefore against the government.
Commenting, Vince Cable said:
“There should be a free vote on Heathrow expansion. MPs must be allowed to vote with their consciences on an issue that has negative economic consequences across many regions of the country - as well as causing environmental problems locally and globally.
“Grayling’s failure to properly answer my question and not announce a free vote for the Conservatives is damning. This suggestion even offers the Conservatives a solution to one of their many Boris problems. Rather than hiding away abroad he would be able to do the right thing and vote against expansion.”
How does the Secretary of State reconcile his claims about regional connectivity with the fact that Heathrow expansion is opposed by all the largest regional airports—Edinburgh, Manchester, Birmingham, East Midlands and Bristol—as well as those in the south-east, Stansted and Gatwick? Since these communities are represented by Members from different parties, does he agree that it would be appropriate to have a free vote on the NPS when it is put before Parliament?
It is clearly up to every individual party to decide how they will approach this vote, but my experience is not what the right hon. Gentleman has just communicated to me: my experience is that around the United Kingdom there is huge support from regional airports and, crucially, regional business groups for the expansion of Heathrow airport. We have looked at the projections, and they show growth at almost all of our regional airports, and I do not have the sense of opposition from the regional airports that the right hon. Gentleman is describing.