Prime Minister Rishi Sunak refused to commit to building the HS2 rail project’s northern leg, fueling speculation that he plans to scrap a major part of the government’s plans to “level-up” disadvantaged regions.
(Bloomberg) — Prime Minister Rishi Sunak refused to commit to building the HS2 rail project’s northern leg, fueling speculation that he plans to scrap a major part of the government’s plans to “level-up” disadvantaged regions.
“There are spades in the ground right now at the moment, making sure we complete the first bit of this line,” Sunak said Thursday in a round of interviews to local BBC radio stations. The prime minister repeatedly avoided answering on whether the second part of the line, from Birmingham to Manchester, will still go-ahead.
The premier’s refusal to squash speculation that he’s considering shortening the rail project, whose costs are threatening to spiral beyond £100 billion ($122 billion), risks sparking more anger from UK business leaders and politicians across the spectrum. Asked whether he agreed with Conservative West Midlands Mayor Andy Street that the project should go ahead in full, Sunak said he agreed on the need for transportation infrastructure.
UK’s HS2 Rail Project Sets Chaotic Scene for Party Conference
The controversy makes for an awkward backdrop ahead Sunak’s planned arrival in Manchester next week for the Conservative Party’s annual conference. The gathering may be Sunak’s best chance to outline his vision for Britain and boost his party’s flagging poll numbers against Labour before an election elected to be held next year.
The HS2 project has been backed by Sunak’s five immediate predecessors as prime minister and is at the heart of the Tories’ manifesto promise to address imbalances between northern communities and the more affluent south. The Tories drew away Labour voters in those areas in the 2019 election and are under pressure to shore up that support.
–With assistance from Stuart Biggs.
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