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Rishi Sunak Refuses to Clarify Future of HS2 Amid Speculation

Rishi Sunak has declined to provide clarity on the future of HS2 on more than a dozen occasions, but has denied that cancelling the Birmingham to Manchester section would be a betrayal of the north of England. Despite two weeks of uncertainty surrounding the project, the prime minister remained tight-lipped on whether HS2 would be scaled back in a series of interviews with BBC local radio stations across the country. While he is believed to have expressed concerns about the cost of HS2, he faced pressure from former Tory prime ministers and chancellors to proceed with the plan in order to level up the country and improve rail capacity. When asked if the northern leg of HS2 could be scrapped, Sunak responded, “I’m not speculating on future things.” He attempted to change the subject, stating that “the vast majority of the journeys that people make are in their cars.” Another attempt by Sunak to divert attention from the future of HS2 was to mention that construction had already begun on the first phase, connecting Birmingham to London. However, Sunak did not provide any certainty regarding phase 2, which would connect Manchester and Birmingham via Crewe. When asked if scrapping phase 2 would betray the north of England, Sunak replied, “No. I think what people will see… is that we’re investing record amounts in improving infrastructure and leveling up.” He also denied that the future of Northern Powerhouse Rail would be affected. However, supporters of the plan are concerned that scaling back HS2 could have a larger impact, as NPR relies on a section of the HS2 line and would benefit from upgrades to Manchester Piccadilly station. Sunak’s indecisiveness threatens to deepen the divide among senior Tories regarding the future of HS2, with supporters and critics putting pressure on the prime minister to make a decision. The details were initially expected to be announced this week, ahead of the Conservative party conference, but the announcement has been delayed and a decision will be made closer to the autumn statement on 22 November. Sunak also faced questions about the Conservative party’s prospects in upcoming by-elections in Tamworth and Mid-Bedfordshire, dismissing concerns and stating his determination to deliver for the people. He also denied any link between Alok Sharma’s decision to step down and frustration with the prime minister’s delay in climate goals. When asked about increased costs for Birmingham residents due to the city council’s bankruptcy, Sunak blamed Labour for mismanaging the council and stated that it was right for voters to hold local councillors accountable.

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