The Labour MP and metro mayoral candidate for Greater Manchester, alongside his Labour counterpart in Liverpool, Steve Rotheram MP, said Theresa May pulling the plug on the “Northern Powerhouse” agenda would be, “as big a betrayal as the 1980s when Margaret Thatcher pulled the plug on our industries”.
The two MPs, elected by the Labour Party to stand as their candidates in the new ‘Metro Mayor’ posts for the Manchester and Liverpool city regions, suggested a “summer of speculation” had cast doubt about the new prime minister’s commitment to the idea.
The Northern Powerhouse, championed by former Chancellor George Osborne, now out of the Cabinet, aimed to devolve powers and money from Whitehall to northern city regions in a bid to boost their economic performance.
Plans included new investment in north-south high-speed rail, HS2, and an east-west version, HS3, linking the belt of northern cities from Liverpool to Hull, via Manchester and Leeds.
Mr Burnham said a post-Brexit change of cabinet and change of prime minister, should not pull the plug on the agenda and commitments made in the Tory’s election manifesto.
But he said repeated briefings by Government sources suggested Theresa May had gone cold on the “Northern Powerhouse” idea and planned to “curtail HS3”.
Mr Burnham and Mr Rotheram, speaking in Manchester, called on the prime minister to use the forthcoming Autumn Statement in the Commons to make a clear commitment to the HS3 scheme.
Mr Burnham, MP for Leigh, Greater Manchester, added: “Before the last election, you couldn’t escape Tory MPs touring the North and promising the earth. But now they are changing their tune.
“If Theresa May confirms the reports and pulls the plug on the Northern Powerhouse, it will be the biggest betrayal of people here since Margaret Thatcher pulled the plug on our industries in the 1980s.
“The vote in the recent referendum reflected a deep feeling of abandonment in many northern communities by the political elite. The right response to Brexit is to deepen the commitment to the Northern Powerhouse, not abandon it.
“We are still prepared to give the new prime minister the benefit of the doubt and stand ready to work constructively with her, as we have in the past, to help her deliver her welcome commitment to close the North-South divide.”
Mr Rotheram, MP for Liverpool Walton, said: “I have long been sceptical of some of the promises made by both the Tory and coalition governments relating to the rebalancing of the economy. Now it looks like my fears have been realised as Theresa May appears to be rowing back on plans for targeted economic interventions.
“It looks like the Northern Powerhouse could go the same way as the Big Society - a clever vote-seeking sound-bite consigned to the political dustbin of history.
“The new metro mayors need the Government to support their work, not hinder their progress with lacklustre support and uncertainty. That is why today we are calling on the prime minister to fulfil the promises her party made to the people in the North West.”
Both have written a joint letter to the prime minister calling on her to clarify the Government’s position on the issues and commit to the HS3 scheme in the Autumn Statement.