22 September 2023

Labour not guilty of ‘great rail betrayal’ over HS2, Sir Keir Starmer insists

22 September 2023

Sir Keir Starmer has insisted he is not guilty of the “great rail betrayal” that Labour has accused the Government of by not committing to building HS2 in full.

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt has said the costs of the high-speed rail project to the North are “getting totally out of control” as Rishi Sunak refuses to guarantee it will reach Manchester.

Labour’s commitment to building HS2, including the scrapped Leeds leg, has been wavering now that the Prime Minister’s position appears to be on the move.

Sir Keir, the Labour leader, insists he still supports the project and blames the Government for introducing the “uncertainty” over its future as ministers consider the move to save billions.

Shadow transport secretary Louise Haigh has said the Tories would be guilty of a “great rail betrayal” if the project does not connect the North with central London.

But Sir Keir deflected when asked during a visit to the London Stock Exchange if he was guilty of the same “betrayal” by not committing to HS2 in full if he reaches No 10.

“Look, the questions here are for the Government,” he told the PA news agency on Friday.

“They committed to HS2, but now they’ve introduced uncertainty.

“And not only in this area, they’ve introduced uncertainty when it comes to net zero, introducing uncertainty when it comes to our schools.

“What we want, for an incoming Labour government is consistency, certainty and long-term strategic decision making, and that’s what we will get.”

Labour sources have been making clear they do not want to go further than ministers by promising to complete the project, because they may then need to find additional funding.

Sir Keir has been levelling charges of “chopping and changing” at the Conservatives over Mr Sunak’s watering down of net zero policies as well as over schools and infrastructure.

But Labour’s position on HS2 has not been entirely clear in recent weeks.

Labour’s National Policy Forum blueprint for potential policies to put to voters committed to “deliver Northern Powerhouse Rail and High Speed 2 in full”.

But Labour’s campaign co-ordinator, Pat McFadden, said on Sunday that he needs to see the price-tag before committing to the full original route as “there may be revised costs”.

Senior shadow minister Nick Thomas-Symonds later promised that the party would build the line “in full”, including to Leeds.

However, shadow Treasury minister Tulip Siddiq raised further doubts about the commitment, arguing it would be irresponsible for her to make a commitment without the final costs.

The eastern leg to Leeds was axed by the Government in 2021.

And it was confirmed in March that construction between Birmingham and Crewe would be delayed by two years and that services may not pass Old Oak Common into central London until the 2040s.

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