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Rishi Sunak Set To Scrap HS2 Line From Birmingham To Manchester In Tory Conference Speech – UK Politics Live

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Shapps says Covid, and rise in working from home, to blame for cancellation of HS2 phase 2Grant Shapps, the defence secretary, spent his morning interview round defending the decision to axe phase two of HS2 without actually confirming that this is what is happening. At no point did he suggest that the reports (eg, here and here) were wrong.

Here are the main points he was making.

Shapps claimed the Covid pandemic was to blame for the cancellation of phase two of HS2, because it led to more working from home. In an interview on the Today programme, when Shapps was reminded that the government had repeatedly promised HS2 to Manchester, and when he was asked what had changed, he gave a one-word answer: “Coronavirus”. When asked to elaborate, he replied:

People no longer travel in the way that they did. We had, I think, hoped that people would go back to the railways, go back to travelling as before. My 19-year-old son, who has gone and got his sort of first full-time job [was] immediately told, by the way, it’s three days a week in the office and you’re expected to work elsewhere at home the rest of the time. That is the norm and was something we could not possibly have known before the once in a 100 year pandemic.

But when Nick Robinson, the presenter, put it to Shapps that on many rail networks more peopel are travelling by rail then before the pandemic, Shapps said the numbers did not tell the full story. He went on:

What’s changed is the pattern of travel. For example, we saw a big uptick in people travelling for leisure and at weekends, fewer people travelling in the rush hour and during the week, particularly on Mondays and Fridays.

He said the HS2 trains would still be running to Manchester and Leeds and that (even though these routes would not be proper HS2 services, he implied) the journeys would still be “significantly faster” than now, because some of the line would be HS2, and because of “digital signalling and other upgrades”.

He signalled that Rishi Sunak would announce investment worth tens of billions in other transport projects which might benefit the norht of England more. Pointing out that we have not heard Sunak’s speech yet, he told the Today programme:

If, let’s say notionally, [Sunak] were to announce the second part [of HS2] wasn’t going to go ahead because of the changes in travel patterns after Coronavirus but that we were going to take the tens of billions of pounds and pour those into, for example, other very fast or high speed train links in the north, other smaller, local transport projects which might connect better, for example, Bolton with Manchester, and hundreds perhaps of those around the country – then actually might that not be a better spend of the money given the passenger numbers you just mentioned? The answer is, of course, there is a perfectly legitimate argument to be made that would do.

In response, Robinson said voters might not believe these promises.

Shapps said the HS2 U-turn showed that Sunak was prepared to take difficlt decisions for the long term. He said:

A decision like this actually points to something else about Rishi Sunak and the sort of things he’s saying today, which is rather than thinking about things in the very short-term he’s prepared to take a look at difficult decisions, things like should we carry on because that’s what we were doing even though the world’s changed and do the hard things.

It’s much harder to change tracks on something like this when you see the world’s changed than it is just to plough on, it will attract criticism when you do these things. He’s prepared to take those long-term difficult decisions because he thinks we can get to a bright future by doing them.

Grant Shapps having an earpiece fitted ahead of an interview this morning. Photograph: Ian Forsyth/Getty ImagesShapps says cancelling HS2 link to Manchester will free up ‘tens of billions’ for other transport projectsGood morning. Rishi Sunak will deliver his speech to the Conservative conference just before noon and it is now all but certain that he will use it to announce he is scrapping the HS2 line from Birmingham to Manchester. There was imaginative spin last night to the effect that the line would still be going ahead, but just on the existing tracks. But that is not high-speed rail, and so there is no avoiding the fact that phase two of the project is dead.

Sunak is expected to announce a raft of other transport projects in north which he hopes will persuade voters the Tory commitment to levelling up has not died too. And we are expecting plenty of other policy in the speech, in which he will try to make the case he is the leader best placed to fix the “broken system” at Westminster which has held back Britain in recent decades (during which his party has largely been in power).

Here is our preview story by Pippa Crerar and Rajeev Syal.

The government has still not publicly confirmed the abandonment of HS2, but this morning Grant Shapps, the defence secretary, and a former transport secretary, has been doing an interview round defending the decision – while still insisting it has not yet been officially announced. On BBC Breakfast, echoing the line floating around last night, he claimed HS2 trains would “still run to Manchester” (even though they won’t be running on new, HS2 track). He said:

HS2 trains will run to Manchester, so they’ll still come into Manchester Piccadilly, they’ll still run to Leeds, there will still be a much faster journey time than there has been in the past.

And not just because some of the section will be actually conventional high speed, or new high speed rail, but also because even the older section can have further upgrades to, for example, its digital infrastructure which is the way the signalling works.

The third thing is until people hear what the money can be used for and therefore the benefits across large parts of the north, for example, it is very hard to judge the full package.

And in an interview on the Today programme he claimed that tens of billions of pounds would be saved that could be spent on other transport projects.

What else will now be built because we will save these tens of billions of pounds? Those are tough choices, I know the opposition won’t do that, we will.

I will post more from his interviews shortly.

Sunak is due to speak at 11.45am. Penny Mordaunt, the leader of the Commons, and Johnny Mercer, the veterans minister, are speaking ahead of him.

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