Starmer: I can’t commit to reverse decision to cancel HS2’s northern leg

Labour cannot commit to building HS2’s northern leg if it wins the next election after the Government “took a wrecking ball” to the project, Sir Keir Starmer has said.

The Opposition leader warned he was unable to promise to reverse Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s announcement, but said he was in talks with leaders across the North of England to provide better “connectivity”.

Sir Keir said Labour would also continue with transport projects already announced by the Government, such as improvements to the A1.

The Prime Minister instead promised to use £36 billion of savings from scrapping sections of HS2 to fund a raft of other transport schemes.

Sir Keir, in a series of interviews with regional broadcasters ahead of what could be Labour’s final annual conference before a general election, tried to paint himself as a “problem-solver” who could fix the current “mess”.

Speaking to ITV News Calendar, he said: “They’ve just taken a wrecking ball to this project.

“They will be cancelling contracts between now and the general election. They will be releasing land that is needed. They downsized. I can’t stand (here) after they’ve made such a big hole in their plans and say (I) will simply reverse it.”

Sir Keir said “yes, we’ll get on with it” when discussing the future of Northern Powerhouse Rail.

HS2 project
The construction site for the HS2 project at Curzon Street in Birmingham (Jacob King/PA)

He said of the Government’s handling of HS2: “Well, what a fiasco.

“They’ve had this project up and running for 13 years. It’s costing billions of pounds, huge promises have been made. And now because of their mismanagement, it’s collapsed in on itself.

“Now, I wanted HS2 built in full. But after the damage they’ve now done to the project, a massive hole that they’ve blown it, I can’t commit to that.

“What I will commit to is that we will have very good transport between our cities and within our cities so we can grow our economy. The single most important thing in this country is we get our economy working across the whole of the country.”

Mr Sunak confirmed HS2 will run from London to Birmingham but will no longer extend beyond the West Midlands, with Manchester among the areas missing out.

However, the PA news agency understands that if not enough private investment is secured for a new Euston terminus, HS2 will stop at Old Oak Common in the capital’s western suburbs.

(PA Graphics)

The Opposition leader was quizzed on transport more broadly after Wales last month became the first country in the UK to drop the default speed limit from 30mph to 20mph for restricted roads.

Asked if he would copy the approach in Wales, Sir Keir told ITV News Wales: “It’s obviously a question for local councils in England to decide what they want to put in place and they’re obviously elected into place.”

Elsewhere in his media round, the Labour leader attacked Mr Sunak’s ability to deliver change, describing him as the “nodding dog that signed off the decisions that he now says are terrible”.

Cabinet minister James Cleverly criticised the Labour leader’s position, accusing him of failing to be decisive.

In a post on X, formerly known as Twitter, he wrote: “Starmer decisively decides to not make a decision on HS2. His principled position on this issue is to not take a position on this issue. He confounds both his detractors and defenders by agreeing with both. He knows leadership when he sees it. He never sees it in the mirror.”

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