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Will HS2 be scrapped? Why the Manchester leg could be cancelled and what it means for the rest of the project

Rishi Sunak appears set to scrap the northern leg of HS2 despite major opposition from business, northern leaders, and from within his own party.

The issue has railroaded the Conservative Party conference in Manchester – at which the Prime Minister is due to speak on Wednesday.

And while he has refused to confirm that the Birmingham to Manchester leg of the high speed railway would be scrapped, there is widespread expectation that an announcement is imminent.

Will the northern leg of HS2 be scrapped?

The Prime Minister may use Wednesday’s conference speech to announce the decision, but is likely to soften the blow by spending on other projects for the North.

On Tuesday he said the price of the scheme had gone “far beyond” what was originally planned, but declined to publicly say he would cancel the Birmingham to Manchester leg.

“I know there’s lots of speculation on it but what I would say is I’ll approach this in the same way I approach everything in this job – I will take the time to look at it properly, get across the detail and then decide what’s right for the country,” he said.

“The sums involved are enormous and it’s right that the Prime Minister takes proper care over it.

“It’s obviously not my money – it’s taxpayers’ money and we should make the right decisions on these things.”

The HS2 scheme was given a budget of £55.7bn in 2015 but costs have ballooned, reaching an estimated £98bn in 2020. Since then, soaring inflation will have pushed costs even higher.

On BBC Breakfast, Mr Sunak said: “As you saw with my recent decision on net zero, when I make a decision that I think is important of course I go and explain that to everyone, explain why I’m doing what I’m doing, why I thought it was right to change direction there. If that happens and is necessary, of course that’s what I’ll do.”

The Prime Minister is expected to hold an emergency Cabinet meeting to sign off the measures during his party conference in the city most directly hit by the cut to HS2.

The Times reported that after intense lobbying from within his Cabinet he will also say the line will terminate at London Euston, rather than the western suburb of Old Oak Common.

What has the reaction been?

The move to cancel the northern leg has been criticised by a number of high-profile Conservative MPs, including former prime ministers Boris Johnson and Theresa May.

Andy Street, the Tory mayor for the West Midlands, refused to rule out resigning if Mr Sunak scales back the project.

Speaking to reporters at an impromptu press conference in Manchester, he warned that Mr Sunak would be wasting a “once in a generation opportunity to level up” if he abandoned the northern leg of HS2 and urged the Prime Minister to find some of the funding through the private sector.

He later said in a statement: “I won’t let HS2 go without a fight. The offer to the PM is there – work with me and the private sector, grip the costs, and build Britain’s future.”

But Conservative Party deputy chairman Lee Anderson told GB News he would back the scrapping of the northern leg of HS2 because it does not have public support and costs are “out of control”.

He said: “The whole country’s got to pay for this. Every single taxpayer in the UK has got to pay for this project, and it’s spiralling out of control.

HS2 route map

“Now, I’m easy with it. If it goes ahead, I’ll support it, if they scrap it, I’ll support that, either way, but we need a decision and we need it very, very soon, because like I say the costs each week are out of control.”

Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham called on Mr Sunak to “end this shambles” on HS2 after weeks of rumours over whether the Manchester leg of the project would be ditched.

In a hastily arranged press conference, Mr Burnham said: “People are meeting in rooms yards from where we’re standing now about decisions that will affect the future of the North of England for the rest of the century.

“But nobody in Government deems that they should pick up the phone to the leader of Manchester City Council or to myself, and, quite frankly, for the city that’s hosting this conference, and we’re pleased to do that, I don’t think that is really any way to treat people.

“End this shambles, you can’t take decisions of this magnitude in the way that you’re doing.”

Writing in his Daily Mail column on Friday, Mr Johnson called for HS2 to be extended without delay.

He wrote: “If we delay or cut the northern legs, if we truncate HS2 – then we are betraying the North of the country and the whole agenda of levelling up.”

The former prime minister added: “Cancel HS2? Cut off the northern legs? We must be out of our minds.”

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