Former ministers criticize ‘desperate’ move to ditch HS2 for Manchester

Former Tory prime ministers have warned Rishi Sunak to “deliver a crippled HS2” after his government refused to deny it was considering scrapping part of the project.

Boris Johnson said suggestions the Birmingham to Manchester route could be cut due to cost concerns were “desperate” and “exchequer-driven nonsense”.

He went on to call on the Prime Minister to deliver on the 2019 smoothing promise on which the Tories were elected.

David Cameron has also privately raised significant concerns about the prospect the high-speed rail could be heavily modified, according to The Times.

The paper quoted an ally as saying it was “unusual” for the former prime minister, who resigned following the result of the 2016 Brexit referendum, to intervene in politics, but believed HS2 was “different”.

“He believes it’s not only important in itself — it’s central to reaching a level — but also that it’s a totemic conservative promise,” the anonymous ally said.

Lobbying from the previous premiers comes as the Government’s infrastructure czar warned canceling the Manchester leg would be a “tragedy” and send an international message that Britain was no longer a place to invest in major projects.

The chairman of the National Infrastructure Commission, Sir John Armitt, acknowledged the need to control costs, but told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “If we don’t go ahead, what are we saying to the rest of the world?

“What do we say to all the investors that we want to bring into Britain? Here is a country that sets ambitions for itself and then runs away when it starts to see some challenges. We have to meet the challenges.”

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Reports suggest the bill has exceeded £100bn

The planned railway – announced by the last Labor government but backed by successive Tory administrations – is intended to link London, the Midlands and the north of England but has been plagued by delays and rising costs.

A budget of £55.7bn. for the whole of HS2 was set up in 2015, but some reports suggest the bill has exceeded £100bn. having been driven up by recent inflation.

Ministers have already moved to pause parts of the project and even cut sections in the north – with the eastern leg between Birmingham and Leeds reduced to an off-ramp line due to end in the East Midlands.

It was confirmed in March that the construction between Birmingham and Crewe would be two years late and services may not enter central London until the 2040s.

A government spokesman said: “The HS2 project is already well underway with spades in the ground and our focus remains on delivering it.”

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