Tory party leader frontrunner Boris Johnson appears to have backtracked on his long-held opposition to a Heathrow third runway.

The former London mayor refused to reassure campaigners against the runway earlier this week that he would cancel the scheme.

Johnson vowed to his constituents four years ago that he would “lie down with you in front of those bulldozers and stop the building, stop the construction of that third runway”.

However, at a hustings organised by the Conservative Party’s 1922 Committee of backbenchers on Wednesday, he was equivocal, The Times reported.

Asked by Greg Hands, a supporter of party leadership rival Jeremy Hunt who resigned from the government to vote against the runway last year, when he would cancel the scheme if he became prime minister, Johnson said that it had now been approved by parliament.

The High Court last month dismissed five legal challenges to the approval of the runway, including one brought by a consortium of local authorities, Greenpeace and current London mayor Sadiq Khan, on air quality, climate change and noise pollution grounds. Friends of the Earth, which brought one of the challenges, said that it would appeal.

Three of the MPs who voted against the third runway – Zac Goldsmith, Theresa Villiers and Matthew Offord – are backing Johnson’s leadership bid.

Johnson’s campaign declined to comment on his Heathrow policy.

He was foreign secretary when the Commons voted to approve Heathrow expansion last June. Instead of voting against the plan he flew to Afghanistan to meet the country’s president and deputy foreign minister for a day.

MoreHeathrow outlines next stage of third runway consultation

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