UK

Sunak facing backlash as he is poised to announce scrapping HS2 to Manchester

Rishi Sunak is set to retreat over plans to extend HS2 to Manchester (Danny Lawson/PA)
Rishi Sunak is set to retreat over plans to extend HS2 to Manchester (Danny Lawson/PA) Rishi Sunak is set to retreat over plans to extend HS2 to Manchester (Danny Lawson/PA)

Rishi Sunak is facing a backlash from Tories, businesses and northern leaders over a chaotic announcement to save billions of pounds by scrapping the HS2 leg to Manchester.

The Prime Minister is expected to hold an emergency Cabinet meeting to sign off the measures during his party conference in the city most directly hit by the cut.

He is then likely to confirm the decision in his speech to the Conservative membership on Wednesday as he possibly softens the blow by spending on other projects for the North.

The Times reported that after intense lobbying from within his Cabinet he will say the line will terminate in Euston, in central London, rather than the western suburb of Old Oak Common.

Tory mayor of the West Midlands Andy Street made an impassioned last-ditch appeal to Mr Sunak not to cancel the link between Birmingham and Manchester.

He did not rule out resigning over the issue, and said: “You will be turning your back on an opportunity to level up – a once-in-a-generation opportunity.

“You will indeed be damaging your international reputation as a place to invest.”

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak Prime Minister Rishi Sunak will give his set-piece speech to the membership on Wednesday (Danny Lawson/PA)

An expanded Northern Powerhouse Rail project linking cities and cash for potholes and bus routes could be announced to sweeten the pill of curtailing the project feared to have spiralled past £100 billion.

But the decision would be overruling the concerns of Tory former prime ministers Boris Johnson, Theresa May and David Cameron.

Labour’s mayor in Greater Manchester Andy Burnham said curtailing HS2 would be “profoundly depressing” and leave northerners treated as “second class citizens”.

Henri Murison, chief executive of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, said backtracking on the project would be “madness”.

Downing Street insisted that “no final decisions” have been made ahead of Cabinet sign-off.

But a package appeared to have been signed off by Chancellor Jeremy Hunt on Monday.

A spokesman for Mr Hunt said a decision by the Prime Minister will be announced “in due course”.

Labour’s shadow transport secretary Louise Haigh said Mr Sunak’s bid to relaunch his premiership was “coming off the rails” over the HS2 “fiasco”.

The move comes as Liz Truss rallied Tory members over proposals to cut taxes and “make Britain grow again” less than a year after she resigned from No 10.

Mr Hunt ruled out sizeable tax cuts this year, but did not not rule out a pre-election giveaway in 2024.

He set out a series of plans popular with the Tory right including slashing the Civil Service and imposing tougher benefits conditions.