In a recent interview, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak defended his decision to scrap the northern leg of the HS2 high-speed rail project, which was originally planned to connect Birmingham to Manchester. Sunak asserted that the project’s costs had doubled since its approval over a decade ago, and changes in passenger behavior following the COVID-19 pandemic had severely eroded its economic case. Despite facing criticism, Sunak emphasized that the remaining £36 billion of the HS2 budget would be reinvested into other rail, road, and bus schemes, benefiting more people and places much more quickly. He rejected claims that this move would harm investor confidence and argued that there was a strong business case for the Birmingham-to-London phase as a standalone project.
Sunak also faced questions about his leadership and the Conservative party’s prospects in the upcoming election. He highlighted three policy announcements—pushing back net-zero targets, overhauling A-levels, and planning to phase out smoking—as examples of “doing politics differently” and focusing on the long term. While acknowledging the party’s long tenure in government, Sunak stressed the need for change in politics and his determination to lead the country in a better direction.
The decision to abandon the northern leg of HS2 has stirred controversy, with critics arguing that it leaves the north with a “second-class system.” Despite promises of funding for the “network north,” concerns persist that these investments may not materialize for many years, and some funds could be redirected to projects in the south, like pothole repairs, rather than strategic transport planning. In the face of these criticisms, Sunak and his team have defended their approach as a necessary reevaluation of past decisions and a commitment to making difficult choices for the long-term benefit of the country.