June 21, 2018 / 11:00 AM / a month ago

Junior UK trade minister resigns over plans to expand Heathrow airport

LONDON (Reuters) - A British trade minister resigned from the government on Thursday to oppose its plans to build a third runway at London’s Heathrow Airport.

FILE PHOTO: An aircraft comes in to land at Heathrow airport in west London, Britain October 25, 2016. REUTERS/Eddie Keogh//File Photo

Greg Hands, the Member of Parliament (MP) for Chelsea and Fulham, which is located under the Heathrow flight path, pledged to his constituents at last year’s general election to vote against any expansion of the airport.

The vote on whether to build a new runway at the airport is due to be held on Monday.

“I wrote to the PM earlier this week on how I will honor these 2017 General Election pledges to the people of Chelsea & Fulham and vote against the Heathrow 3rd runway,” Hands said on his Twitter page.

Downing Street said lawmaker George Hollingbery had been appointed as Hands’ replacement at the Department for International Trade.

Heathrow is Europe’s busiest airport but is now operating at full capacity. Plans to expand it have faced opposition from local communities and environmentalists who are concerned about increased noise and air pollution.

The vote on Heathrow is expected to pass fairly easily because the opposition Labour party said this week its MPs will be given free rein to vote with the government.

The decision to expand Heathrow follows almost half a century of indecision on how and where to add new airport capacity in densely populated southeast England. If it goes ahead, it will be the first full-length runway built in the London area for 70 years.

The highest profile opponent of Heathrow expansion in the government is the foreign minister Boris Johnson who once pledged to lie down in front of bulldozers to stop it happening.

But Johnson may be out of Britain on Monday, attending a meeting of European Union foreign ministers, so may not attend the vote in the House of Commons.

Andy McDonald, Labour’s shadow transport minister, said Hands’ resignation “piles the pressure” on the foreign minister.

A spokesman for Prime Minister Theresa May said Hands, who has held various ministerial roles in the last few years, had “served the government with great ability and distinction.”

His resignation came as the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said he would join legal action against the third runway if parliament voted to approve it.

Hands is the second minister to resign from May’s government this month. Last week the pro-Europe justice minister Phillip Lee quit in protest at the government’s Brexit plans.

Reporting by Andrew MacAskill and Elisabeth O'Leary, additional reporting by Paul Sandle; editing by Stephen Addison, William Maclean

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