Boris Johnson defends HS2 U-turn, saying ‘levelling up cannot wait that long’ – UK politics live

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Starmer says rail plan shows government has failed ‘first test of levelling up’

Keir Starmer has said the north of England has been betrayed by the prime minister’s plans for rail. In an interview for broadcasters, he said Boris Johnon had broken his promise to extend HS2 all the way to Leeds, and to build a new line between Manchester and Leeds. He went on:

This was the first test of levelling up and the government has completely failed and let down everybody in the north.

You can’t believe a word the prime minister says.

When it was put to him that the government says this is the biggest investment ever in rail, and that it will benefit passengers more quickly than the original HS2 plan, Starmer replied:

You don’t have to drill down very long into that GBP96bn to realise that most of that, or a good deal of that, is money already spent or the bit of the line becomes up to the Midlands. So that argument doesn’t hold water. And as for the improved speed of [journey times], of course that’s a good thing.

But if you don’t have a new line, you don’t sort out capacity. And that is the biggest problem that we’ve got across the north. So, that is, I’m afraid just the tactics of trying to ensure that the focus isn’t on what’s really happened here, which is the breaking of two very, very important pledges.

If you can’t level up in Bradford, then the whole levelling up agenda is seen for what it really is, which is just a slogan.


Johnson claims he always declares everything ‘in the normal way’

In an interview during his Network Rail visit, Boris Johnson was also asked if he would give up free holidays and declare his interests in the proper way in the light of the new Commons focus on standards. He replied:

I always declare everything in the normal way. I was very glad to see the House of Commons[10] approving yesterday a cross-party approach and I think that’s what we need to do.

Actually, that is not true.

Johnson has been repeatedly criticised by the Commons standards committee over the way he declares interests. In 2019 a report[11] said that making late declarations had become “a pattern of behaviour” for Johnson and that displayed “an over-casual attitude towards obeying the rules of the house”. And a report this year[12] said it was “unsatisfactory” that Johnson took so long to respond to questions about his holiday in Mustique, and how it was declared in the register.

Updated at 12.56pm GMT


Johnson refuses to comment on groping claims about his father

Boris Johnson has declined to say whether his father, Stanley Johnson, will be investigated by the Conservative party after two women made allegations of inappropriate touching.[14] Interviewed during a visit to a Network Rail logistics hub near Selby, North Yorkshire, Johnson said:

First of all, it’s absolutely right that everybody, women in particular, should be able, have the confidence, to come forward and make complaints.

I’m obviously not going to comment on individual cases.

Johnson also declined to say whether he had spoken to his father about the allegations.

Updated at 1.07pm GMT


Angela Rayner, the deputy Labour leader, is not holding back. She is calling Boris Johnson[16] “a liar, a fraud and a con artist”.

Angela Rayner (@AngelaRayner)

Time and time again @BorisJohnson[17] has promised us Northern Powerhouse Rail. It has been announced more than 60 times in government press releases.

So when I call him a liar, a fraud and a con artist all I’m doing is telling the truth. Ask him why he breaks his promises so much?

November 18, 2021[18]


How plans for HS2 have changed[20]


Bob Seely, the Conservative MP for the Isle of Wight, says the HS2 debacle is “more of a turkey mixed with a white elephant”. He says it should provide as lesson as to why a “vanity project”, albeit one that started under Labour, should never be allowed to gather a head of steam.

The statement is now over.

Although Grant Shapps faced some criticism from some northern Tory MPs, the backlash was more muted than it might have been.


Craig Tracey, the Conservative MP for North Warwickshire, says it is “very disappointing” to hear that HS2 is not being extended to Leeds. He says his constituency is one of those most affected by phase one of HS2, but it is not seeing any benefits.


Labour’s Chi Onwurah says levelling up depends on rail. But this is a “watered down, broken promise plan”.

She says that, at the next election, every Tory candidate will be saying to voters: “We did you over last time. Please let us do you over again.”

Shapps does not agree. He says with reduced journey times, more capacity and increased reliability, Tory candidates will have plenty of positive things to tell voters.


Ian Mearns, Labour MP for Gateshead, says Boris Johnson[25] previously told him nine months ago that HS2 would be built to Leeds.

He says it now looks as though HS2 was affordable for the south, but not for the north.

Updated at 1.10pm GMT


Back in the Commons Kevin Hollinrake, the Conservative MP for Thirsk and Malton, says under the original plans the Bradford to Manchester journey would have taken 20 minutes. Now it is more like 45. He says there will be “an economic price paid for generations” as a result of the decision announced today.

Shapps does not accept that.

People in Bradford will benefit from shorter journey times, he says.

Updated at 12.04pm GMT


Johnson defends HS2 U-turn, saying ‘levelling up cannot wait that long’

In his introduction to the integrated rail plan document (pdf)[28], Boris Johnson credits Lee Anderson, the Tory MP for Ashfield, with helping to alter his thinking on the rail project. He says:

In my discussions on HS2 last year, I was struck by what one of my parliamentary colleagues, Lee Anderson MP, told me: that his constituents in Ashfield would have to watch the high speed trains go through at 200mph without stopping when what they really wanted was a decent bus service to the next town.

Johnson explains why he thinks the original HS2 plans were flawed.

As Doug Oakervee, the reviewer of HS2, found, the previous plans were designed largely in isolation from the rest of the transport network. They would have spent billions of pounds on a new rail link to the East Midlands that didn’t directly serve any of the region’s three main cities. [Transport for the North’s] preferred option for Northern Powerhouse Rail would also have seen us spend billions upgrading the conventional line between Leeds and Manchester – and then tens of billions more, straight afterwards, building a second line between the same two places.

Under those plans, many places on the existing main lines, such as Doncaster, Huddersfield, Wakefield and Leicester, would have seen little improvement or a worsening in their services. The fastest services to the East Midlands would have been concentrated on a parkway stop. Losing the convenience of city-centre stations, good connections to existing local public transport networks, and proximity to thousands of shops and businesses.

There was nothing directly for wider improvements to local transport.

He says Covid has been a factor too. “Covid-19 has altered some of the assumptions on which these schemes were designed,” he says. And he defends his decision to go back on his original promises.

Some have demanded that we rigidly stick to the old plans, however long they take, however much they cost and whoever they leave behind. Some have pre-emptively denounced any departure from those plans as a betrayal of levelling-up.

But those who say these things are, in effect, condemning the North and the East Midlands to get nothing for ten years or more. Levelling up cannot wait that long.


Government publishes Integrated Rail Plan for North and Midlands

Here is the Department for Transport’s news release [30]about the plans. And here is the full text (pdf)[31] of the Integrated Rail Plan for North and the Midlands.

Updated at 11.40am GMT


HS2 rail leg to Leeds scrapped, Grant Shapps confirms

Here is the story from my colleague Gwyn Topham, the Guardian’s transport correspondent, on the Shapps announcement.


Robbie Moore, the Tory MP for Keighly, says he is “deeply disappointed” by today’s announcement.

He says the Bradford district has been “completely shortchanged”

Shapps says these plans will cut 12 minutes from the journey time between Bradford and Leeds. And they will cut 30 minutes from the journey time between Bradford and London. He says, under the original plan, Bradford would have had to wait until 2043 to benefit.

He says Moore might not be an MP by then.

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  1. ^ 1.10pm GMT 13:10 Starmer says rail plan shows government has failed ‘first test of levelling up’ (
  2. ^ 12.55pm GMT 12:55 Johnson claims he always declares everything ‘in the normal way’ (
  3. ^ 12.42pm GMT 12:42 Johnson refuses to comment on groping claims about his father (
  4. ^ 11.55am GMT 11:55 Johnson defends HS2 U-turn, saying ‘levelling up cannot wait that long’ (
  5. ^ 11.40am GMT 11:40 Government publishes Integrated Rail Plan for North and Midlands (
  6. ^ 11.37am GMT 11:37 HS2 rail leg to Leeds scrapped, Grant Shapps confirms (
  7. ^ 11.30am GMT 11:30 Tory transport committee chair says scaled-back rail plan shows ‘danger of selling perpetual sunlight’ (
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