Keir Starmer has accused the prime minister of “letting down everyone in the north” after his government announced it was axing a promised high-speed railway between Manchester and Leeds, as well as the eastern leg of the HS2.
Speaking to reporters from a Bradford rail station, the Labour leader accused Boris Johnson of “failing [his] first test of levelling up” and warned the public they “can’t believe a word the prime minister says”.
Mr Johnson has already insisted it is “total rubbish” to suggest he has broken pledges made on rail connections, instead doubling down on his claim that the government’s Integrated Rail Plan (IRP) will bring “massive, massive gains” – particularly for young commuters.
In response to Grant Shapps confirming scaled-back Northern Powerhouse plans, as well as the total abandonment of HS2’s line from Birmingham to Leeds, Labour’s Bridget Phillipson shared an unearthed clip of now-chancellor Rishi Sunak arguing for the government to support northern rail investment when he was a backbencher.
“London has Crossrail, the Midlands are getting HS2, now we in the north need the government to back Northern Powerhouse,” the Tory MP for Richmond, in North Yorkshire, can be heard telling the Commons in the video.
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Hello, and welcome to The Independent’s rolling political coverage. Stay tuned as we bring you the latest updates on the day Boris Johnson’s government is set to publish its long-anticipated Integrated Rail Plan (IRP).
PM ruffles feathers as he unveils cuts to northern rail plan
Boris Johnson is facing a furious backlash from northern Tory MPs after he broke his promise to build a new railway line for the north of England by scrapping the eastern leg of HS2 from Birmingham to Leeds.
Mr Johnson and transport secretary Grant Shapps are expected to unveil the government’s Integrated Rail Review on Thursday, billing it as “the biggest ever” public investment in the rail network with some £96bn going to the Midlands and northern England.
But despite promising a new line, the prime minister has now announced he will scale back the plans and green-light a cheaper series of piecemeal upgrades, following pressure from the Treasury to cut costs.
Jon Stone and Jon Sharman report:
Prime minister’s Integrated Rail Review has ditched plans for eastern HS2 leg
Raab defends HS2 cuts: ‘Best bang for buck’
Dominic Raab has defended the government’s decision to scrap the eastern leg of HS2, between Birmingham and Leeds, claiming chancellor Rishi Sunak is committed to getting a railway that gives taxpayers and local businesses in the area “the best bang for the buck”.
“I think we’re looking at where you get best value for taxpayers’ money, where the infrastructure will deliver the best yield ... and for the businesses that are already there, getting them the best expansion opportunities we can,” the deputy PM told Sky News earlier.
The justice secretary also said the move will improve “interconnectivity” between regions in the north and across the country, despite outrage from northern Tory MPs and rail experts.
PM confirms rail cuts in article – and confirms study into Leeds extension
Boris Johnson decided to announce cuts to the HS2 railway in an exclusive article he wrote for the Yorkshire Post.
In a move that will likely anger Commons speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle, who has repeatedly berated the PM for making announcements to the media before doing so to the House, as is custom, Mr Johnson outlined the goivernment’s move to scrap the part of the line which would have run from Birmingham to Leeds.
“High-speed rail is grindingly slow to build. Under the original blueprint, first drawn up more than a decade ago, Yorkshire would have not have seen the benefits of our investment until at least the 2040s. Levelling up can’t wait that long. And towns like Wakefield, Doncaster, Dewsbury and Huddersfield would have suffered as trains were taken off the existing main lines,” the PM wrote.
“So rather than just waiting for another two decades for a scheme that snubs much of Yorkshire, we will do more, and sooner.”
He also confirmed that, despite the changes, “a new study” is being launched to “look at how to get HS2 to Leeds too”.
Labour condemns ‘desperately disappointing’ HS2 cuts
Boris Johnson’s scaling back of railway plans for the north is “desperately disappointing”, shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves has said.
Ms Reeves, who is also the MP for Leeds West, talked to the BBC as it became apparent that promises made in four successive Conservative manifestoes to bring HS2 to Leeds and Yorkshire will be scrapped today.
“What we are getting is tinkering around the edges rather than the proper transformation of transport in the north of England,” she told Radio 4’s Today programme. “Already Yorkshire has the lowest level of capital investment in transport than anywhere in the country ... We have been badly done by for many years now.”
Ms Reeves added: “The government has announced Northern Powerhouse Rail 70 times now in the last few years and not a single spade in the ground.
“The people of Yorkshire are becoming very cynical about government promises.”
Changes to eastern leg of HS2 ‘win-win,’ claims Raab
More from justice secretary Dominic Raab now, who is insisting the government’s reduced rail plans for the north are “win-win”.
While declining to confirm specifics of the changes ,he told BBC Breakfast: “The detail will be set out today, but I think this is win-win.
“It’s never been done before, £96bn, there’s never been an infrastructure project or series of projects on this scale.
“We’re delivering action to go with the words and the aspirations around us.”
The £96bn Mr Raab refers to is how the government is framing its changes to HS2, labelling it an investment into rail infrastructure, however the Yorkshire Post is reporting the figure is actually based on transferring money earmarked for previous plans to the amended proposals – not totally new funding.
Labour accuses Sunak of not ‘having guts’ to announce HS2 changes in Budget
More from the shadow chancellor now, who has accused Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, of not having “the guts” to announce that HS2 would not go ahead in the recent Budget.
Rachel Reeves also claimed the government had “entirely the wrong priorities”.
“We had the Budget just a couple of weeks ago and the chancellor found money to scrap air passenger duty on short-haul flights,” she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. “Two weeks later the prime minister says that they are going to scrap HS2 going to Sheffield and Leeds.”
Ms Reeves continued: “If you can find money to cut the air passenger duty for domestic flights but you can’t invest in our rail transport infrastructure, I just think that is entirely the wrong priorities.
“The chancellor should have had the guts to stand up in parliament at the Budget and announce then that this crucial transport infrastructure that will deliver the growth and jobs that we need in the north of England wasn’t going to go ahead and yet those carbon-emitting flights will be increasing.”
Boris Johnson’s government is set to face increased backlash throughout the day, with the Integrated Rail Plan being published later today.
‘Political and economic risk’ to scale back HS2, says Tory peer
A former Tory minister has described the government’s decision to scale back HS2 rail plans in north as “a political and economic risk”.
Lord O’Neill, who is vice chair of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, told Times Radio that “Bradford is being excluded”.
“It seems like a strange political and economic risk-reward calculation here because from what the team at the Powerhouse Partnership have figured out, all of this on that part of it would only save less than £4bn out of what was previously £39bn,” he said.
“So, 10 per cent saving to disappoint millions of people around the north and, crucially, people in redwall seats and their MPs.”
Lord O’Neill added that the decision is “clearly sad” and that the north is being left out and “it doesn’t make a huge amount of sense”.
Suggestions HS2 cuts benefit Red Wall voters
There’s some interesting commentary going on around why the eastern leg of HS2 is being scrapped, specifically that it benefits new Tory-voting areas.
Here’s ITV’s Anushka Asthana:
And Politico’s Alex Wickham, who has gathered some good intelligence on potential reasons for the eastern HS2 leg being scrapped, has this:
Government has collective responsibility for sleaze failings, says Raab
Stepping away from HS2 drama for a moment, Dominic Raab was also quizzed this morning about the government's ongoing handling of sleaze allegations.
The deputy PM said “we’re all in it together” when asked if he was in the front passenger seat when Boris Johnson “crashed the car into a ditch” over sleaze, following remarks the PM made in a 1922 committee meeting of backbench Tory MPs last night.
Me Raab added: “I take full responsibility as we do in government, we’ve got collective responsibility, but fundamentally we’re fixing this problem now.
“All MPs will be covered by this, every single one will be covered by a bar on acting as paid political consultants or lobbyists and a limit so that outside interests don’t eclipse the overriding focus, which should be on serving constituency priorities.”
Attention now turns to the vote last night, which saw Tories quash a Labour motion to ban MPs from any work as paid political consultants, but push through an amendment by Boris Johnson to do what Keir Starmer’s party see as a “watered down version” of this.
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