Tories clash as Rishi Sunak set to use conference speech to axe 'HS2 north'

2 October 2023, 23:51 | Updated: 3 October 2023, 06:57

The Mayor of Birmingham Andy Street has warned scrapping HS2 would damage the UK's international credibility
The Mayor of Birmingham Andy Street has warned scrapping HS2 would damage the UK's international credibility. Picture: Alamy/LBC

By Emma Soteriou, Kieran Kelly and Natasha Clark

Rishi Sunak is facing a backlash from Tories, businesses and northern leaders over an announcement to save billions of pounds by axing 'HS2 north'.

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Mr Sunak is planning on scrapping the second phase of HS2 between Birmingham and Manchester, it has emerged.

The Prime Minister is expected to hold an emergency Cabinet meeting to sign off the measures during his party conference in the city most directly hit by the cut.

He is then set to make the announcement during his keynote speech, according to the Telegraph.

The savings are set to free up more than £10 billion that can instead be spent on an east-west high-speed link - Northern Powerhouse Rail - as well as improvement to major roads and bus routes, he is set to say.

But the move has seen a mixed response from Tory members, with Lee Anderson - the deputy chairman of the party - welcoming the decision as HS2's costs were "spiralling out of control".

Read more: What is HS2 and is it going to be scrapped?

Read more: HS2 Manchester leg 'set to be scrapped' as Burnham says Tories are treating Northerners ‘like second class citizens’

Andy Street speaks to Andrew Marr about HS2

Meanwhile, Conservative mayor Andy Street told LBC's Andrew Marr that the UK "must see it through" as a "serious G7 country".

“We need the full line from Euston to Manchester for there to be a good national investment," Mr Street said, as he warned there is "no business case" for HS2 to run from Birmingham to Old Oak Common in west London.

He continued: "Therefore, stand back from the bit that is still yet to be planned and say ‘how do we do this at much less cost?’ and we’ve got offers from major companies who have done this in other countries.”

"There is no question that if we do not go ahead with a connectivity from Birmingham to Manchester, it will be a very, very serious blow to Levelling Up," Mr Street added.

Asked what the effect of scrapping HS2 would have on the UK's international credibility, Mr Street said it would "definitely damage it".

"As a serious G7 country, we have to do the difficult stuff well," he said.

Andy Burnham: Tories are treating Northerners ‘like second class citizens’

It comes after Andy Burnham said the Tories are treating Northerners “like second class citizens” amid speculation over HS2's northern leg.

The Manchester Mayor told LBC he has been “completely shut out” of discussions on the high speed rail line as he is meeting with ministers today to discuss its future.

No10 previously slapped down speculation that the PM is imminently to announce the ditching of the Northern part of the line in a bid to save cash.

Mr Burnham told LBC he was “not aware” he even had a reply from the PM about his request for a meeting last week.

He said the discussions around binning it was “frustrating” and it would have “epic implications for the North if we get left with Victorian rail infrastructure”.

Journalist brands HS2 a 'political vanity project' that no one 'dares cancel'

Read more: Chancellor Jeremy Hunt says taxes are ‘too high’ in Britain - but can’t say when they might come down

“Why is it always people in the North who are treated as second class citizens when it comes to transport investment?”

He urged them not to scrap it, because it would be hugely damaging to other transport links in the North and would deter investment.

Mr Burnham added: “None of it should be scrapped.

“Who has let that cost spiral out of control? I mean, we've had almost 15 years of indecision under this government and chopping and changing the scheme and that has led the cost spiral out of control.

“It's pretty unfair to me that the North of England pay for that mismanagement.”

And he piled pressure on Labour to commit to building the whole thing in full when they meet for their annual gathering in Liverpool next week.

When grilled on whether he wanted to see Sir Keir Starmer make such a promise, he replied: “Of course, I'm not going to say not.

“Obviously, that may need to be looked at in the light of whatever the government announces. I'd be really keen to talk to Keir, and shadow ministers next week.

“Levelling up cannot happen in my view, without that big strategic infrastructure.”

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