In his most outspoken intervention in domestic politics since leaving No 10 last year, the former prime minister reveals his ‘suppressed fury’ at Mr Sunak’s decision to throw the future of the line into doubt.
Writing in the Daily Mail, Mr Johnson says the latest ‘spasm of uncertainty’ risks undermining the entire levelling up agenda, which was central to the Conservative Party‘s landslide victory in 2019 – and damaging long-term investment in the North.
He says it is time to end the ‘injustice of the infrastructure gap’ in what he describes as ‘the most imbalanced major economy in the world’.
‘If we delay or cut the northern legs, if we truncate HS2 – then we are betraying the north of the country and the whole agenda of levelling up,’ he writes.
Watch out for Boris Johnson’s column on Mail Online and in Saturday’s Daily Mail.
Boris Johnson today warns Rishi Sunak he will be guilty of a ‘betrayal of the North’ if he scraps plans to extend the HS2 rail line to Manchester
The intervention comes at the end of a week in which the PM has fuelled speculation about the future of the project
Writing in the Daily Mail, Mr Johnson says the latest ‘spasm of uncertainty’ risks undermining the entire levelling up agenda
The intervention comes at the end of a week in which Mr Sunak has fuelled speculation about the future of the project by repeatedly refusing to confirm that HS2 will be extended to Manchester, or even that the planned line from Birmingham will reach central London.
Whitehall sources confirmed that the Prime Minister is all but convinced that the soaring cost of the flagship rail scheme, which began life under the last Labour government, can no longer be justified.
But the plan has triggered a huge political backlash, and a formal decision has been put on hold until after the Conservatives hold their annual conference in Manchester this weekend.
During a tough round of interviews with local TV and radio stations this week, the Prime Minister ducked more than a dozen questions about whether the troubled rail line would ever get to Manchester.
He confirmed the project is under review to ensure ‘we get value for money’.
And he suggested that the estimated £35 billion saved could be better spent funding other transport projects, such as new rail lines connecting northern cities, improved rural buses or fixing potholes.
The PM is said to be ‘alarmed’ by the spiralling cost of the project, which Chancellor Jeremy Hunt last week said was ‘totally out of control’.
The original £30 billion budget has ballooned to £71 billion and some insiders believe it is on course to top £100 billion following the latest bout of inflation, despite a 2021 decision to scrap the Eastern leg to Leeds.
Ministers believe that truncating the project further could save £35 billion and release cash for other projects, including so-called Northern Powerhouse Rail, which would involve a new high-speed line from Liverpool to Hull via Manchester and Leeds.
But Mr Johnson warns today that ‘deluded’ attempts at penny-pinching will backfire.
Describing his rection to the cost-saving review, he writes: ‘I won’t say that I howled with frustration.
‘It was more of a groan, a long, low despairing groan – the kind you might make on the concourse at Euston, on seeing that your overcrowded service has been cancelled yet again – a groan of suppressed fury at the repetitious madness of it all.
‘Cancel HS2? Cut off the northern legs? We must be out of our minds.’
Mr Johnson says that a cost-cutting plan to terminate HS2 at Old Oak Common in west London could mean HS2 services from Birmingham to central London are actually slower than today, making the project a ‘total white elephant’.
He warns that dithering over the project risks making the UK a global laughing stock – and says Chinese universities are already using the scheme as an example of the ‘disadvantages of democracy’.
China, he says, has built 25,000 miles of high-speed rail since 2008 while the UK has built zero.
The former PM says ministers must ‘of course grip the costs’. But he says all great infrastructure projects go through a ‘moment of doubt and pain’ before they are completed.
‘We simply cannot afford to abandon this vision now – to panic and throw up our hands, and say it is all too difficult,’ he writes.
Source: | This article originally belongs to Dailymail.co.uk
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