The Prime Minister has confirmed he’s scrapping the leg of the high-speed rail project from Birmingham to Manchester
Rishi Sunak has refused to apologise for cancelling the northern leg of HS2, despite heavy criticism from his predecessors in Number 10.
The Prime Minister defied senior Tories and business leaders to scrap HS2 from Birmingham to Manchester, saying “the facts have changed” and the cost of the high-speed rail scheme had “more than doubled”.
But former Tory prime minister David Cameron said the decision would fuel the view that Britain cannot act for the long-term and is “heading in the wrong direction”, with Boris Johnson writing “I agree” in response to Mr Cameron’s tweet.
In an interview recorded after his Tory conference speech and broadcast on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Thursday, the Prime Minister was asked whether he would apologise for the Conservative Party’s “false promises” made to northerners over many years.
Mr Sunak replied: “No. What I want to say to everybody is that what we’re doing is going to be better for our country.
“You keep using the word scrap, but what we’re doing is replacing HS2 with something that’s going to benefit far more people in far more places and far quicker.
“Every penny that would have been spent on this project, £36 billion, is going to be reinvested in every form of transportation, not just heavy rail. and in every part of our country.”
He also denied that the first phase of HS2 would be reduced to a “shuttle service” between London and Birmingham.
Previous governments and the company itself had set out a “very strong” business case for the route as a “standalone project,” according to the Prime Minister.
“For those people now to say that somehow that’s a shuttle service is them not being truthful about what they said previously,” he added.
He said he “couldn’t disagree more” with the suggestion that the move would put investors off.
But the chairwoman of the Commons Public Accounts Committee, which scrutinises Government spending, said the “stop-start” approach to large infrastructure projects “undermines wider confidence that government programmes for major infrastructure investment will be delivered”.
Dame Meg Hillier said: “In a globally competitive world, companies may now choose to invest their time and skills in other countries.”
In his speech in Manchester, Mr Sunak pitched himself as a politician delivering “change”, despite his party having been in power since 2010.
Asked by Today presenter Nick Robinson whether it showed “brass neck” to promise change after 13 years of Conservative rule, the Prime Minister said: “This is about leadership. I’ve been Prime Minister for less than a year.
“The choice at the next election is between me and (Labour leader) Keir Starmer. I’m the person that’s doing politics differently. I’m the person making the big decisions that are going to change our country for the future.”
Mr Sunak, who is travelling to Granada on Thursday to discuss migration and Ukraine at the European Political Community summit, faces a tough task to turn around the opinion polls ahead of a general election expected next year.
He announced sweeping education reforms and a plan to phase out smoking in his speech, as well as confirming the fate of the high-speed rail project after weeks of speculation which had overshadowed the conference.
He continued to say until Wednesday that no decision had been made, but questions were raised over a video outlining his decision, which appeared to have been filmed in Downing Street several days earlier.
Asked about the clip which was shared on social media, Transport Secretary Mark Harper said: “I don’t really know why people are getting so het up with this particular issue.”
He said ministers have been “working on this whole plan for a number of weeks”, with the decision formally made on Tuesday and approved by the Cabinet ahead of Mr Sunak’s speech on Wednesday.
Mr Sunak confirmed HS2 will run from Euston in central London to Birmingham but will no longer extend beyond the West Midlands, with Manchester among the areas missing out.
However, the PA news agency understands that if not enough private investment is secured for a new Euston terminus, HS2 will stop at Old Oak Common in the capital’s western suburbs.
West Yorkshire mayor Tracy Brabin said that the Prime Minister “hasn’t spoken to any northern leaders” about the transport schemes announced in HS2’s place, and there was a lack of detail about what these will entail.
Mayor of Liverpool City Region Steve Rotheram described the Government proposals as “jam tomorrow”.
The Labour mayor said: “Whilst they made those announcements yesterday, and you’re talking in telephone numbers the sort of figures they were bandying round, when people realise that that’s not real money and it’s not going to be seen for many years, in some cases for decades, and some of it which was proposed to be spent across the North is being proposed to be spent down South for potholes – that’s not strategic transport planning.”
Mr Cameron said the announcement “throws away 15 years of cross-party consensus, sustained over six administrations, and will make it much harder to build consensus for any future long-term projects”.
Published: by Radio NewsHub