Tory Latest: Sunak Faces Backlash Over Fate of HS2 Northern Leg

Rishi Sunak is facing a backlash from businesses and politicians across the political spectrum amid expectations he will scrap the Birmingham-Manchester section of the HS2 high-speed rail project.

(Bloomberg) — Rishi Sunak is facing a backlash from businesses and politicians across the political spectrum amid expectations he will scrap the Birmingham-Manchester section of the HS2 high-speed rail project.

The fate of the flagship project has hung over the Conservative Party conference in Manchester. The prime minister is gathering his Cabinet to discuss HS2 on Tuesday, ahead of his speech to the conference on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, his party is feuding over whether to take Britain out of the European Convention on Human Rights, while senior Tories are calling on Sunak to cut the country’s tax burden.

Read More: Sunak’s Indecision Puts Tory Rivals on Edge Ahead of UK Election

Key Developments, Stories:

  • CBI says firms need clarity on HS2
  • Sunak says inflation will ‘keep coming down’
  • Health Secretary Steve Barclay, Home Secretary Suella Braverman to give speeches
  • Senior doctors pause strikes to seek talks
  • UK Transport Chief Slams ‘Sinister’ Anti-Congestion Measures
  • What Is the UK National Living Wage and How Does It Work? Q&A

(All times UK)

Minister: Don’t Frame HS2 as ‘Levelling Up’ (11 a.m.)

Rachel Maclean, a minister in the government’s levelling up department, has given a hint about how Rishi Sunak might try to navigate the awkward politics of scaling back HS2.

Asked whether axing the Manchester link would be a death knell for Conservative Party’s core promise to “level up” regions across the UK, she told Bloomberg Radio: “I don’t think you should frame HS2 as levelling up. This is one project.”

Osborne: Scaling Back HS2 Would Be ‘Tragedy’ (10:50 a.m.)

Canceling HS2 would be a “great tragedy,” former Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne told Sky News, adding that Rishi Sunak’s pledge to take long-term decisions should include large infrastructure projects.

Osborne’s views mater because his name is associated with Tory efforts to promote a “northern powerhouse” as a counterbalance to London. Amid reports Sunak is considering diverting funds from HS2 to bolster an east-west line in the region, Osborne said Northern power house rail should not be a substitute for HS2. “Those projects should go ahead together,” he said.

Sunak to Hold Cabinet Meeting on HS2 (9:40 a.m.)

Sunak will meet with cabinet members on Tuesday to discuss the fate of the HS2 project, according to a person familiar with the matter said. The timing of the meeting wasn’t immediately clear. 

Mace: Scrapping HS2 Link Would Stifle Investment (8:40 a.m.)

Mark Reynolds, chief executive officer of HS2 contractor Mace Group Ltd, said scrapping the Birmingham to Manchester leg of the high-speed rail line would repel investors.

“Foreign investors are not going to come if we do not continue to invest in our infrastructure,” Reynolds told BBC radio. He said he’d raised HS2 personally with Rishi Sunak and an adviser of the prime minister, “and he dodged the question and moved on very quickly.”

Sunak: Inflation ‘Will Keep Coming Down’ (8:25 a.m.)

The cost-of-living crisis dominated Sunak’s interview on ITV’s ‘Good Morning Britain.’ Inflation “is coming down,” he said. “It will keep coming down.”

But he appeared frustrated at the line of questioning, including when it was pointed out that halving inflation would still leave people facing soaring prices. Sunak suggested interviewer Susanna Reid would “like to say it’s all my fault.”

Senior Doctors Pause Strikes to Seek Talks (8:20 a.m.)

Consultants from the British Medical Association said they will not call any more strikes for four weeks, as they seek to negotiate with the UK government via the ACAS mediation service, the PA agency reported. Senior doctors set a deadline of Nov. 3 for a deal to be put to members, before setting strike dates for November and December.

CBI to Sunak: Give Firms Clarity on HS2 (8 a.m.)

Rain Newton-Smith, the director-general of the Confederation of British Industry, said Prime Minister Rishi Sunak should provide businesses with clarity over the HS2 high-speed rail line.

“We would encourage the PM to make sure we have a clear plan for HS2,” Newton-Smith told Bloomberg TV.

Sunak Says He’ll ‘Look at Facts’ on HS2 (7:40am)

Rishi Sunak repeatedly declined to confirm reports that he’ll scrap the second leg of the high-speed HS2 rail line between Birmingham and Manchester.

The premier told the BBC he would “look at the facts and take my time to get the decision right for the country.”

But in another indication that he is preparing to scrap part of the HS2 project, Sunak likened his approach to his recent decision to water down the government’s green agenda.

Tory Mayor Warns Against Scrapping HS2 (Earlier)

West Midlands Mayor Andy Street warned Rishi Sunak against canceling the leg of the HS2 high speed rail project linking Manchester to Birmingham.

Street, who has played a key role in boosting the Conservative Party’s fortunes in his region, told journalists that Sunak would be turning his back on the Tories’ pledge to “level up” the country.

Private sector companies including Siemens, EY, Mace and Arup are willing to help support the government in delivering the project, he said.

–With assistance from Lizzy Burden, Stuart Biggs, Alex Morales, Emily Ashton and Caroline Hepker.

More stories like this are available on

©2023 Bloomberg L.P.