Red Wall backlash mounts over PM's U-turn over HS2 eastern leg

What happened to Levelling Up? Red Wall backlash mounts as Boris Johnson prepares to scrap election pledge to build HS2 leg from Midlands to Leeds as former minister tells him to ‘go the full monty’

  • Ministers expected to scrap east leg of HS2 linking Birmingham and Leeds
  • New high-speed line between Manchester and Leeds also likely to be binned
  • A month ago PM pledged to ‘link up the cities of the Midlands and the North’

Boris Johnson is facing mounting fury from the Tory backbenches today ahead of an expected decision to scrap the eastern leg of HS2 between the Midlands and Leeds.

Ministers insisted that the Prime Minister’s flagship levelling up plan was ‘infused’ in its work as Conservatives in former Labour Red Wall areas voiced frustration at the axing of the multi-billion pound scheme.

There is also anger that plans to boost east-west rail connections across the region – known as Northern Powerhouse Rail – will likely involve improvements to existing infrastructure rather than a new purpose-built line between Manchester and Leeds. 

Mr Johnson last night refused to comment on the Government’s rail plans ahead of a  decision to be announced on Thursday by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps.

Jut a month ago, at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester, Mr Johnson used his leader’s speech to pledge the Government ‘will do Northern Powerhouse Rail, we will link up the cities of the Midlands and the North’. 

Scarborough MP and former Tory transport minister Robert Goodwill told the i newspaper: ‘It is disappointing that we’re not going to go the full monty in terms of HS2 and east-west, Northern Powerhouse Rail.’

Ministers insisted that the Prime Minister’s flagship levelling up plan was ‘infused’ in its work as Conservatives in former Labour Red Wall areas voiced frustration at the axing of the multi-billion pound scheme.

The Government is expected to axe its plans for the eastern branch of HS2 which would link Birmingham and Leeds. The link from Birmingham to Manchester is expected to go ahead 

Scarborough MP and former Tory transport minister Robert Goodwill told the i newspaper: ‘It is disappointing that we’re not going to go the Full Monty in terms of HS2 and east-west, Northern Powerhouse Rail.’

Home Office minister Damian Hinds this morning told Sky News: ‘We’re absolutely committed to levelling up’

Home Office minister Damian Hinds this morning said he could not comment ahead of the Integrated Rail Plan’s expected release on Thursday, but he told Sky News: ‘We’re absolutely committed to levelling up, I think that runs through… is infused in everything Government does, transport also is part of that, and so and so many other things.

‘On the specifics of the railways, we’re going to have to wait for the integrated rail review.’

The Department for Transport will argue that HS2 trains will still serve Leeds but on the mainline rather than HS2 tracks, saving tens of billions of pounds.

It will insist that its plan to invest £96 billion on the existing network will deliver benefits faster and more cost-effectively.

But Conservative MP Kevin Hollinrake, who represents Thirsk and Malton in North Yorkshire, told the i the trimmed back plans indicated the Government was ‘not willing to put our money where our mouth is’.

Henri Murison, director of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, told Times Radio: ‘By cutting the eastern leg it does reduce the overall benefits of the whole project.

‘So the challenge for Government is they’re having to still justify pretty much the same bill.

‘You’re still going to have to spend some money on upgrades in the north of England – there isn’t a model for improving the economy up here that doesn’t involve new infrastructure.

‘But if you chip away at the new lines, you still have to spend money on upgrades.’ 

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