Scrapping HS2 north, smoking ban and a new qualification: Sunak's policy announcements at a glance

4 October 2023, 13:45 | Updated: 4 October 2023, 15:01

Rishi Sunak has presented a series of new policies
Rishi Sunak has presented a series of new policies. Picture: Getty
Kieran Kelly

By Kieran Kelly

Rishi Sunak has made a series of policy announcements in his keynote address to the Conservative Party Conference, covering HS2, smoking, and education.

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In brief, the prime minister announced at the final day of the Tory Party Conference that the northern leg of the HS2 project will be scrapped, saying "every penny" saved will be spent on transport in the North and the Midlands.

The prime minister also proposed creating a 'smoke-free generation' by raising the smoking age by one year, every year.

As for education, Mr Sunak announced a new education qualification in England, which would combine A-Levels and T-levels.

Read below for a more detailed breakdown of the prime minister's policy announcements.

HS2 will only run between London and Birmingham, new 'Network North'

London Euston will be the terminus for HS2
London Euston will be the terminus for HS2. Picture: Getty

Ending weeks of speculation, the prime minister finally announced that "the rest of the HS2 project" is to be cancelled, meaning everything outside of the London to Birmingham leg.

As expected, the decision means HS2 will not reach the north west of England, with Mr Sunak pledging "every penny" saved by cancelling the high-speed rail project will be spent on transport in the North and the Midlands.

Some £36bn will be saved by cancelling the rest of the project, Mr Sunak said.

"Every region outside of London will receive the same or more government investment than they would have done under HS2, with quicker results," he told the Tory Party Conference on Wednesday.

The prime minister also confirmed HS2 will run all the way to London Euston, rather than terminating at Old Oak Common in West London.

Read More: HS2 extension scrapped and £36bn to be spent on new transport projects in the North, says Rishi Sunak

But the current HS2 team will not manage the rest of the project, with Mr Sunak saying "there must be some accountability for the mistakes made, for the mismanagement of this project".

Some more transport promises made by Sunak include:

  • £12bn for already planned link between Manchester and Liverpool, though will not be high-speed rail
  • A Midlands Rail Hub, connecting 50 stations
  • Extending West Midlands Metro
  • Electrify North Wales main line, build Leeds tram
  • Upgrade the A1, the A2, the A5, and M6
  • Boost links between Scotland and Northern Ireland
  • Bring back the Don Valley line
  • Funding for the Shipley bypass, Blyth relief road and 70 other road schemes
  • Resurfacing roads across the UK
  • Upgrade for energy coast line between Barrow, Carlisle and Workington

"I challenge anyone to tell me with a straight face that all of that isn’t what the North really needs," Mr Sunak said.

New smoking ban

A new smoking ban has been proposed by Mr Sunak
A new smoking ban has been proposed by Mr Sunak. Picture: Getty

Outside of transport, Mr Sunak also pledged to create a 'smoke-free generation' under new plans to raise the smoking age by one year, every year.

Under the prime minister's proposals, 14-year-olds today will never be legally sold a cigarette.

"When we raised the smoking age to 18, smoking prevalence dropped by 30% in that age group," the prime minsiter said.

"When the United States raised the age to 21, the smoking rate dropped by 39% in that age group.

"Smoking places huge pressures on the NHS and costs our country £17bn a year.

"We have a chance to cut cancer deaths by a quarter, significantly ease those pressures and protect our children, and we should take it."

The prime minister said the proposal is 'not a values judgement on people who smoke' and said there is no ban on people who already smoke.

Read More: Sunak says 14-year-olds will 'never be sold a cigarette' under plans to raise smoking age by one year, every year

Tory MPs will not be forced into voting for the changes, he added.

"The vote on this in parliament will be a free vote, as the ban on smoking in public places was and raising the smoking age to 18 was," he said.

"There will be no government whip. It is a matter of conscience."

A new education qualification

A new education qualification has been proposed by Rishi Sunak
A new education qualification has been proposed by Rishi Sunak. Picture: Getty

Another one of Mr Sunak's big policy announcement centred around education as he proposed a new qualification named the 'Advanced British Standard'.

The prime minister said the qualification will "bring together A-levels and T-levels into a new, single qualification for our school leavers".

"This will finally deliver on the promise of parity of esteem between academic and technical education.

"Because all students will sit the Advanced British Standard," he said.

The plans will only affect students in England as education is devolved.

All students in England would sit the new 'Advanced British Standard', which will involve pupils studying England and Maths until the age of 18.

Students will typically study five subjects, rathe than three, as is the case in the current A-level system.

Other key moments

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on stage with wife Akshata Murty following his speech during the final day of the Conservative Party Conference
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on stage with wife Akshata Murty following his speech during the final day of the Conservative Party Conference. Picture: Getty

Mr Sunak's speech was preceded by a surprise appearance and speech by his wife, Akshata Murthy, who described the prime minister as his "best friend".

The prime minister also attacked the Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, who he described as embodying "30-year political status quo".

He pledged a different leadership approach of pragmatism and "telling it as it is."

On immigration, Mr Sunak once again pledge to stop illegal boat crossings, saying new laws will ensure those entering the UK illegally are detained and removed.

He pledged Rwanda deportation flights will help to stop the boats.

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