Fury as it is revealed Rishi Sunak filmed video cancelling HS2 from Downing Street days BEFORE chaotic Tory conference announcement – as he refuses to apologise to the North for axing train line to Manchester
Rishi Sunak is facing a fury after it was revealed he filmed a video in Downing Street confirming the scrapping of HS2 – despite then insisting for days after that no decision had been taken.
The Prime Minister used his Tory conference speech yesterday to announce he was junking the northern leg of the rail line between Birmingham and Manchester as he ended weeks of speculation.
Following his keynote address to the Conservative gathering in Manchester, Mr Sunak posted a video to social media in which he said he was ‘stopping all phases of HS2 beyond Birmingham’.
But it was noted how the video appeared to have been filmed in Downing Street prior to the PM’s trip to Manchester for the start of the conference on Sunday.
This was despite Mr Sunak and other senior ministers spending the bulk of the Conservative conference refusing to comment on the future of HS2.
Ministers today defended the Government over the row, while Mr Sunak himself declined an opportunity to apologise to the North for ‘false promises’ on HS2.
In his social media video, posted yesterday but seemingly filmed days before, the PM hailed his plans for a new ‘Network North’ – a series of transport projects that he is aiming to fund through £36billion in savings from cancelling HS2.
He said: ‘How are we able to do this? Because I am stopping all phases of HS2 beyond Birmingham and we will reinvest every single penny saved into transport projects across the North and Midlands.’
But, during the four-day Tory conference, the PM had repeatedly refused to confirm he’d taken a decision on HS2 despite intense speculation about his plans.
‘I’m not going to comment on all this speculation,’ Mr Sunak had told the BBC on Sunday.
The PM then told Sky News on Tuesday, on the eve of his conference speech, that he was not going to be ‘forced into premature decisions’.
Transport Secretary Mark Harper this morning insisted he took the ‘formal, final decision’ to scrap HS2 on Tuesday, before it was signed off by Cabinet on Wednesday.
He said he could not understand ‘why people are getting so het up’ with the row over the PM’s social media video.
‘We’ve been working on this whole plan for a number of weeks, as you would expect – it’s a big decision,’ he told Sky News.
‘I have the legal responsibility to take the decision and I took the decision formally on Tuesday this week and it was approved by the Cabinet on Wednesday morning and then announced by the PM at our conference.
‘So all very straightforward and I don’t know why people are getting so het up with this particular issue.’
A spokeswoman for Mr Sunak said: ‘Cabinet made the decision yesterday.’
The PM’s choice to scrap the northern leg to Manchester has prompted a fierce backlash among Tories – including former PMs Boris Johnson and David Cameron – as well as from northern leaders.
But, in an interview with BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, recorded after his Tory conference speech yesterday, Mr Sunak denied that his action would put off future investment in Britain.
‘I speak to investors all the time in this job… that’s my background. It’s a world I know well,’ the PM said.
‘I can tell you, they do not talk to me about the rail road between Birmingham and Manchester. They talk to me about all these other things.’
Mr Sunak also said it was ‘wrong’ to describe the leftover part of HS2 as a ‘shuttle service’ between London and Birmingham.
The PM declined to apologise for ‘false promises’ on high speed rail, saying: ‘No, what I want to say to everybody is that what we are doing is going to be better. It is going to be better for our country.
‘You keep using the word scrap but what we are doing is replacing HS2 with something that is going to benefit far more people in far more places and far quicker.’