THAT Chris Grayling did not have the confidence, competence or courtesy to answer critical questions from two of his former Cabinet colleagues over HS2 does little to assist those tasked with selling high-speed rail to an increasingly sceptical public.
The Transport Secretary left it to Harrogate MP Andrew Jones, the Rail Minister, to respond to David Davis who – in a rare intervention by the Haltemprice and Howden MP on an issue unrelated to Brexit – pointed out that just half the money being spent on HS2 would be sufficient to replace every train in the UK, a populist call that will do little to increase the number of services that can run on the railways.
And when longstanding critic Dame Cheryl Gillan, a former Welsh Secretary, condemned the growing number of HS2 executives on six-figure salaries, it fell to Nusrat Ghani, another junior minister, to respond.
Though Mr Grayling had, yet again, been hurt by more opprobrium from colleagues over his mishandling of the Seaborne Freght ferry contract, it is simply not good enough to leave it to others to say that the intention is for the £56bn scheme to be completed within budget.
Even though John Spellar, a former transport minister under Labour, was similarly dismissed, Mr Davis’s intervention was the more significant because it echoed views previously expressed by Boris Johnson – and Brexiteers are likely to use this issue to broaden their appeal in the next Tory leadership campaign. As such, the DfT needs to come up with a more cogent case for HS2 which counters all those who want immediate improvements to their local road and rail links.