Wednesday, 17 Jul 2024

Johnson warns plans to scrap HS2 Manchester leg would betray the north

Boris Johnson warns Rishi Sunak plans to scrap HS2’s Manchester connection would be a ‘betrayal to the north’

  • PM gave clearest signal yet last night that northern leg of HS2 could be scrapped
  • But Mr Johnson said that scaling back the project risks undermining levelling up

Boris Johnson today warns Rishi Sunak he will be guilty of a ‘betrayal of the North’ if he scraps plans to extend the HS2 rail line to Manchester.

In his most outspoken intervention in domestic politics since leaving No 10 last year, the former prime minister reveals his ‘suppressed fury’ at Mr Sunak’s decision to throw the future of the line into doubt.

Writing in the Daily Mail, Mr Johnson says the latest ‘spasm of uncertainty’ risks undermining the entire levelling up agenda – which was central to the Conservative Party’s landslide victory in 2019 – and damaging long-term investment in the North.

But last night the PM gave the clearest signal yet that the northern leg to Manchester is for the chop. 

In an interview with The Sun, he said: ‘I’ve got under the bonnet. I’ve seen what works, what doesn’t work and what I want to do differently. That’s the phase we’re in.’

Boris Johnson warned the Prime Minister on Friday that scrapping the northern leg of HS2 to Manchester would be a ‘betrayal to the North’

Mr Johnson said that scaling back the project, which experts believe could cost over £100 billion, would risk undermining the Government’s levelling up agenda

Mr Johnson, however, says it is time to end the ‘injustice of the infrastructure gap’ in what he describes as ‘the most imbalanced major economy in the world’. 

‘If we delay or cut the northern legs, if we truncate HS2 – then we are betraying the North of the country and the whole agenda of levelling up,’ he writes.

His intervention comes at the end of a week in which Mr Sunak has fuelled speculation about the future of the project by repeatedly refusing to confirm that HS2 will be extended to Manchester, or even that the planned line from Birmingham will reach central London.

Whitehall sources confirmed that Mr Sunak is all but convinced that the soaring cost of the flagship rail scheme, which began life under the last Labour government, can no longer be justified. 

But the plan has triggered a political backlash, and a formal decision has been put on hold until after the Conservatives hold their annual conference in Manchester this weekend.

During a tough round of interviews with local TV and radio stations this week, the Prime Minister ducked more than a dozen questions about whether the troubled rail line would ever get to Manchester. He confirmed the project was under review to ensure ‘we get value for money’.

The PM is said to be ‘alarmed’ by the spiralling cost of the project, which Chancellor Jeremy Hunt last week said was ‘totally out of control’. 

Mr Sunak has repeatedly refused to commit to the Manchester leg of the high-speed rail project, confirming that it was under review to ensure value for money

The original £30 billion budget has ballooned to £71 billion and some insiders believe it is on course to top £100 billion.

But Mr Johnson warns that ‘deluded’ attempts at penny-pinching will backfire. He writes: ‘Cancel HS2? Cut off the northern legs? We must be out of our minds.’

Mr Johnson says a cost-cutting plan to terminate HS2 at Old Oak Common in west London could mean services from Birmingham to central London are actually slower than today, making the project a ‘total white elephant’.

China, he says, has built 25,000 miles of high-speed rail since 2008 while the UK has built zero. ‘We simply cannot afford to abandon this vision now – to panic and throw up our hands, and say it is all too difficult,’ he writes.

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