Sunak insists he is the choice for ‘change’ as he defends HS2 decision

Rishi Sunak defended his decision to shift policies on HS2 and environmental targets and pitched himself as the person to change the UK as he continued with public messaging while the Labour Party meets for its conference in Liverpool.

The Prime Minister visited a Currys repair and customer service centre in Newark, Nottinghamshire, on Monday, where he took questions from employees there as well as the media.

Mr Sunak was speaking just days after his own party met in Manchester for their conference, where Mr Sunak announced he would cancel the HS2 rail line north of Birmingham.

Mr Sunak defended the decision on Monday, saying: “We’re going to take every penny of that £36 billion and we’re going to spend it on transport across the country – on bus, on road, on rail, on all the forms of transport that you use every day.

“I think that is the right thing to do for the long term.”

He added: “There were lots of communities, including many in the East Midlands, who would have seen worse service to London as a result of HS2 being built, because those services will either have been slower or will have been reduced.

“That won’t happen now.”

The Tory leader said he knew the process of building HS2 had been “disruptive” for parts of the region but that his decision meant people could buy back properties that had been subject to compulsory purchase orders.

Mr Sunak also said ministers were looking at removing “safeguarding provisions” that prevented development in areas that had been earmarked for the high speed rail’s “potential route in the future”.

One of the workers present asked Mr Sunak why the public should vote Conservative and for him “with the mess left by your predecessor”.

Mr Sunak initially laughed at the question, which received a round of applause from others present, and said: “We’ve all collectively got to look to the future.

“I could spend a lot of my time talking about the past and what happened, and whatever I inherited and all the rest of it, which I’ve touched on, but that doesn’t help any of you.

Rishi Sunak
Rishi Sunak hosts a PM Connect event at the Currys Repair Centre in Coddington, Newark (Joe Giddens/PA)

He added: “I know all of you want to see change … change in the direction of our country … I want to see that too, I’m hungry to deliver that change for you, but I’ve got to tell you, that change is not just a function of which party is in power.

“That change is a function of the leadership that that person offers. Are they willing to do things differently? Are they willing to change how politics is done? And that’s what I’m about.

“So, the reason to vote for me, the reason to support me, is because I’m going to deliver that change for you, because I’m going to do things differently.”

Challenged over whether he has “watered down” his Government’s environmental policies, Mr Sunak denied that he had, saying the UK continued to have net-zero targets that were “better than anyone else’s”.

The Prime Minister said the “destination is the same” despite changes he introduced recently on green policies, adding: “We’re not watering down anything.”

The Conservatives and Labour have in the past tended to keep a low profile when the other is hosting their autumn conference.

Mr Sunak denied his visit to the East Midlands on Monday was a sign he was worried about the Conservative Party’s chances in the so-called Red Wall at the next general election.

Asked by a reporter whether his decision to take the “unusual step” of making a public visit during the Labour Party conference was a sign of “desperation”, Mr Sunak said: “No, I think that kind of approach to everything is incredibly political.”

He said he was there to see the business and thank those present for their contribution, as well as to talk about the “pretty big things” his party has announced in recent weeks, including on net-zero and HS2.

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