Boris Johnson's HS2 decision stems from three failings - Tom Richmond

THE decision by Boris Johnson’s London Government to scrap the eastern leg of HS2 to Leeds stems – in part – from three fundamental failings pointed out by this newspaper when high-speed rail was launched.

First, Britain’s largest ever infrastructure project – a scheme developed when Labour was last in power – needed to proceed on a cross-party basis to avoid being compromised by the type of political betrayal and chicanery witnessed this week by the BJLG. Next, it was essential that construction work actually began in the North to counter the accepted narrative that HS2 was solely for London’s benefit.

Shame on David Cameron – remember him? – for ignoring overtures from Kris Hopkins, the then Keighley MP.

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Third, it was imperative that HS2 was developed in tandem with local improvements so commuters and taxpayers had a better idea about the number of extra services that would run on their local lines as a result of the extra track capacity. That’s you Network Rail.

PA.

But this still does not excuse Johnson’s cabal in London for reversing the Cabinet’s pre-pandemic decision to build HS2 in full or the PM’s subsequent statements, as recently as February this year, that the leg through Yorkshire to Leeds would be constructed in full.

Instead, it is a monumentally short-sighted decision – the 21st century equivalent of the Beeching line closures in the 1960s – as the high-speed link between the East Midlands and West Yorkshire is terminated after an enormous waste of time and money.

What chance of getting people – and freight – off the roads and on to the railways in the century of climate change if Britain has high-speed rail in name only and is totally inept at delivering infrastructure improvements on time and on budget?

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First, The Sunday Times and Mail on Sunday were given advance briefings of the rail plan so it could be presented favourably without any scrutiny about whether there is new funding – or not. ‘‘Red wall commuters to get rail revolution”, said The Sunday Times headline last weekend.

On Monday, The Times reported ‘‘Rail revamp of the North facing cuts to save money’’.

The insinuation throughout the London Government’s briefings was that a region starved of transport investment for decades was being too greedy, onerous and unrealistic. By Tuesday, the newspapers were full of reports about Johnson’s frustrations over the COP26 climate change deal, and inaction of world leaders, in spite of the appalling example that he was setting over his own transport policy and political corruption.

Fast forward to Wednesday and confirmation – via The Times – that the Government was having doubts about its decisions under the headline ‘‘Hellish rail plan hits cities in the North’’.

It also included this quote from a Conservative Party source: “This row tells you everything that’s wrong with the party. Announcing £96bn of investment in transport for the North and it’s still not enough.”

It spoke volumes. It suggested Boris Johnson’s London Government regard the 15 million-plus people living and working here as ‘‘whingeing Northerners’’ when, in fact, they are hardworking people denied opportunities by the failure of every government since the Beeching cuts to invest in the region’s infrastructure. But it also confirmed a naivety that no amount of Johnson ‘‘boosterism’’ – or waffle – will mask, namely this region’s apoplexy at being taken for a ride by a premier who has now betrayed the North and ‘‘fabled’’ red wall that he tried to take for granted.

IT is a continuing source of political intrigue that Labour MPs previously hostile to Theresa May now hold the former premier in higher regard. I wonder why.

The latest is Hull East MP Karl Turner, a lawyer, in his intervention in the latest House of Commons shenanigans over disgraced former minister Owen Paterson – and how the Tories tried to stonewall his suspension for ‘‘egregious’’ lobbying.

Turner, the Shadow Legal Aid Minister, said “this chaos would never have happened” on the watch of the ex-PM. This came after May had stood up in the Commons and condemned the Government’s stance over the past three weeks as “misplaced, ill-judged and just plain wrong” – charges that were self-evident when the sheer scale of Paterson’s breach of standards had emerged.

But it’s still unclear who – in government – took the decision to attempt to thwart Paterson’s suspension before the public outcry triggered his resignation as MP?

Boris Johnson, as Turner alleges? Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg trying to save a friend and fellow Brexiteer? Or Tory chief whip Mark Spencer fearful of a potentially awkward by-election in North Shropshire?

This still matters because whoever took that fateful decision is not fit to hold high office – or any office for that matter.