Receive free HS2 updates
We’ll send you a myFT Daily Digest email rounding up the latest HS2 news every morning.
UK chancellor Jeremy Hunt launched a successful rearguard action to ensure the HS2 high-speed rail line is built to Euston station in central London, even as Rishi Sunak prepared to axe the northern leg of the route.
Sunak, the prime minister, had mulled terminating the line at Old Oak Common, six miles from central London, to save money, but government insiders said Hunt fought to ensure it continued to a purpose-built terminus at Euston.
One official said Hunt argued the line should be built to Euston on economic grounds, but also because of the damage to Britain’s reputation if the route terminated in the London suburbs.
Hunt made his position clear in January when he said: “I don’t see any conceivable circumstances in which [the line] would not end up at Euston.”
Sunak recently claimed Old Oak Common had “very strong” links to the rest of London via the new Elizabeth Line. Several Conservative officials said Hunt’s view had prevailed.
However, Sunak is expected to announce the axing of the HS2 northern leg from Birmingham to Manchester in his Tory conference speech on Wednesday, with cash shifted to other transport projects.
As a face-saving measure, Sunak could announce high-speed trains could continue from Birmingham to Manchester on existing tracks, Sky News reported. Downing Street has been approached for comment.
One Tory official said the prime minister was expected to convene his cabinet to “rubber stamp” his HS2 plan before his speech to party members in Manchester.
Construction of the initial section of HS2 between London and Birmingham is under way.
Sunak will claim in his speech that scrapping the final section of the high-speed line between Birmingham and Manchester is evidence of him being prepared to make “difficult decisions” in the national interest.
He will announce funding for new transport projects, with government insiders confirming all the savings from HS2 would be reinvested in new road, rail and bus projects, along with filling in potholes.
Although the Treasury had doubts about the original business case for HS2, several government insiders said the finance ministry had not been agitating to scrap the northern leg.
Sunak has accepted that his decision will be controversial and his allies fear that Andy Street, the Tory West Midlands mayor, might quit. “Andy will do what he will do,” said one. Street has declined to say whether he will resign.
But the prime minister will argue his reforms to Britain’s transport priorities are a sign of him being willing to take tough decisions that benefit ordinary voters. “Politics doesn’t work the way it should,” he will say.
Tory officials said Sunak’s speech would contain a number of new policy initiatives to prove he can change the country and galvanise a Conservative party typically trailing Labour by more than 15 percentage points in opinion polls.
Among the initiatives being discussed in Number 10 in recent days is reform to post-16 education, with a new focus on maths teaching.
Sunak will promise to break the “30-year-old political status quo” — an attempt to argue that administrations such as John Major’s Tory government and Tony Blair’s Labour regime were part of a failed system characterised by “vested interests”.
“It isn’t anger, it is an exhaustion with politics,” Sunak will say. “In particular, politicians saying things, and then nothing ever changing.” Labour will argue that only it can offer real change after 13 years of Tory rule.
Sunak will counter that Labour’s Sir Keir Starmer is not the “change candidate” and that the opposition leader’s safety-first approach was “a bet on people’s apathy”. “It does not speak to any higher purpose or brighter future,” Sunak will say.