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Inside Westminster

How The Independent forced the PM’s hand on HS2

Had this paper not revealed Rishi Sunak’s plan to scrap the northern leg of the line, he might still be touting levelling up as a top priority. It’s not a claim anyone will take seriously now, writes Andrew Grice

Wednesday 27 September 2023 15:02 BST
Cancelling or delaying the Birmingham-Manchester leg would be a powerful symbol of failure
Cancelling or delaying the Birmingham-Manchester leg would be a powerful symbol of failure (PA)

Today’s call by five Labour mayors, including Sadiq Khan and Andy Burnham, for HS2 to go ahead, will pile more pressure on Rishi Sunak to rethink his plan to delay or scrap the project’s northern leg from Birmingham to Manchester.

The mayors, who met in Leeds today, called for the Northern Powerhouse Rail project to be delivered in full to ensure “not only north-south but west-east connectivity between Liverpool and Hull.” Their opposition to Sunak’s plan is not party political; it is shared by Andy Street, the Tory mayor of the West Midlands.

Sunak would be wise to listen to the mayors. When he eventually announces his decision on HS2, he will dress it up as a boost for transport services in the North. If his intention to dismantle the HS2 programme had not been revealed by The Independent, he might have persuaded some Northern voters that levelling up was still alive as a government priority. But not now: the die has been cast. Sunak will be unable to erase the damaging impression the Tories have failed to keep their promise to bridge the North-South divide that was crucial in winning over red wall voters in 2019.

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