Sir Keir Starmer: Boris Johnson has sold Yorkshire out on HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail

The Leader of the Opposition, writing for The Yorkshire Post, responds to the Government’s Integrated Rail Plan.

If the last few weeks have taught us anything, it’s that for the Conservatives, words are cheap.

Boris Johnson promised to fully deliver HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail – brand new high speed lines to increase capacity, realise investment, jobs and opportunity in our regions – more times than it’s possible to count.

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Instead, we have broken promises on new stations in Bradford and Leeds, ‘upgrades’ instead of new miles of track, crumbs from the table packaged up as new investment. In exchange for this, ministers seemingly expect gratitude from the very people they’ve broken their promises to. And it gets worse. Scratch the surface of the figures peddled by the Prime Minister and things unravel very swiftly indeed.

Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer. Picture:Leon Neal/Getty Images.Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer. Picture:Leon Neal/Getty Images.
Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer. Picture:Leon Neal/Getty Images.

Almost half of the sum he is bandying about – half – is already being spent. Much of it is nowhere near the north.

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Boris Johnson: Our Integrated Rail Plan for HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail in ...

Why not start building HS2 at both ends of the track, in the north and the south? Why not use such a major project to boost British businesses and manufacturers?

The inevitable conclusion is Boris Johnson never had any intention of keeping his word. He pocketed the support of those who placed their trust in him and then turned his back on them.

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The Prime Minister has now derailed the prospect of giving the north the transport system it deserves. Tory MPs up here will now have to explain to their constituents why the promises they made at the last election will not be delivered.

And the price tag for his piecemeal offer is eye-watering. That’s because his government has taken its eye off the ball, allowing the cost of HS2 to spiral. It’s the same old story – they’re happy to let the north pay the price for their own mismanagement. They wouldn’t dream of pulling a stunt like this in their own backyard. They have shown their true colours and sold out the people of Yorkshire.

This could have been a once-in-a-generation chance to futureproof our transport networks, bettering the chances of meeting our climate change pledges and allowing people to find good, skilled jobs without having to move hundreds of miles from their hometown.

A chance to make good on the now laughably hollow promise to ‘level up’. Continuing to peddle that vacuous phrase after this week would be nothing short of holding people in contempt.

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This betrayal is made even more profound by the fact it comes at a time when families are being asked to cough up more of their hard-earned money. Fares are up, taxes are up and bills are up. It’s working people who are paying the price of this government’s chaos. Labour has been clear we would build HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail in full. We would reform our public transport networks so they work for the people and communities who rely on them, making sure they are fit-for-purpose for the economy of the future.

And we’d support British businesses with our plans to Buy, Make and Sell in Britain, clamping down on waste and corruption with taxpayer money with a new Office for Value for Money and reform of the public procurement system. But we can only do this if we restore faith in our democracy. And that will require more than warm words. I’ve got a clear plan for how we can start this. Firstly, by banning second jobs for MPs. Then by stopping the revolving door that sees ministers leave government to join companies they were supposed to be regulating. And by giving real teeth and powers to the bodies that police standards in political life, so that the public could be assured that politicians were held to high standards.

Boris Johnson and his government have done huge damage in recent weeks. They’ve attempted to create one rule for them and their mates and another for everyone else. And they’ve compounded that by ripping up the central promises they made at the last election.

That’s not the way I do business. Honesty, trust and decency are important, and unlike this Prime Minister, I take them seriously.

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His attempt to govern by slogan, is unravelling. Labour will continue to hold this government to account every single day. These are serious times, and the Prime Minister’s jokes are wearing thin.

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