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Johnson will U-turn on scaled-back HS2 plan, predicts former Chancellor

“I think the pressure will grow on the Conservatives because, actually, there are quite a lot of marginal seats around Bradford and Leeds”
18/11/2021. London, United Kingdom. Prime Minister Boris Johnson talks to a member of staff as he arrives at Huddesfield train station as he tours the north of England to coincide with the announcement of the Integrated Rail Plan. Picture by Andrew Parsons / No 10 Downing Street

Former chancellor George Osborne has predicted that the Prime Minister will U-turn on his plans to axe to HS2 leg to Leeds.

The architect of the Northern Powerhouse project and the Conservative chancellor from 2010 and 2016, Mr Osborne told the Financial Times that he expects “electoral pressures” will force Mr Johnson to change his mind when it comes time for another election.

Speaking to the papers’ Payne’s Politics podcast, he pointed to the number of marginal seats around Bradford and Leeds and said: “Frankly, I don’t think high speed rail in the east of England, up to Yorkshire, is dead yet.

“You’ve had the Labour Party commit very quickly to build it, I think the pressure will grow on the Conservatives because, actually, there are quite a lot of marginal seats around Bradford and Leeds.

He added that it “wouldn’t be for the first time – our Prime Minister execute a U-turn” and that he could feasibly see him “come back to promising an eastern leg of HS2, just over a longer period of time.”

Mr Osborne’s comments follow calls from business leaders and others across the north of England for the Prime Minister to reconsider

In a co-signed letter submitted by northern business leaders to the PM, the group expressed disappointment at the plan announced last week and stated: “As it stands, we do not believe that this plan can deliver either the high performing, productive Northern economy demanded by a Global Britain, nor the levelling up that has been identified as a key goal for your government.”

On Friday however, following the publication of the Integrated Rail Plan and government confirmation that the eastern leg of HS2 would be scrapped, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps denied that the government had gone back on its rail promises to better connect the north and the midlands.

He told Sky News last week, “They are absolutely being fulfilled. We are producing that around 30-minute journey from Manchester to Leeds

“When it comes to HS2, we are going to deliver HS2 trains (we are looking at) the best way to do that into Leeds.”

Labour, meanwhile, has said anger in the region – particularly in Bradford – is “palpable” following last week’s announcement.

Sir Kier Starmer told BBC Radio 5 Live:

“People feel very strongly that promises have been made to them and they have just been ripped up. The idea that ‘levelling up’ is anything more than a slogan has absolutely blown away by what happened yesterday.

“The whole point of HS2 was a high speed line going up including to Leeds. The whole point of the promise of Northern Powerhouse Rail was a new line going from Manchester to Leeds.

“Trying to upgrade what you have got is a second-class option for the North.”

Feature image – No. 10 Downing street / Flickr

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