Boris Johnson 'won't stand by promises to the North' as axe looms for HS2 leg to Leeds

Boris Johnson was accused by Keir Starmer of failing to stand by "two important promises to the North" as the Prime Minister avoided answering questions about the future of HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail.

The Government's Integrated Rail Plan is due to be published on Thursday and briefings have suggested it will result in the HS2 Eastern leg to Yorkshire being scrapped in favour of a shorter route between Birmingham and the East Midlands. It is also expected that the long-promised Northern Powerhouse Rail scheme will not include a new line between Leeds and Manchester via Bradford as had been hoped.

At Prime Minister's Questions on Wednesday, Sir Keir reminded Mr Johnson of previous commitments he had made both on NPR and HS2.

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He said: “Trust matters and after the last fortnight the Prime Minister’s got a lot of work to do. A central plank in this Government’s promise to the North of England is a Crossrail of the North, with at least an entirely new high speed rail line between Manchester and Leeds.

Boris Johnson speaking in the House of Commons at Prime Minister's Questions.

“A Crossrail for the North, an entirely new line, that is the promise, it’s already been made, so I don’t want the Prime Minister fobbing off the House about waiting until tomorrow, he can say today, will he stick by that promise, yes or no?”

Mr Johnson replied: “When we produce our integrated rail plan tomorrow people across the House and across the country will see what we are doing to cut journey times, to make life easier and better for people in the North East, in the North West, in the Midlands, across the whole of the North of the country.

“And with the biggest programme of investment in rail for a century and what we are doing, is we are giving people in those communities the same access to commuter-type services that people in the south east of this country have felt entitled to for more than a century, and that is going to be levelling-up across the whole of the UK.”

Sir Keir replied: “That was a lot of words but it wasn’t a yes. So that’s one important promise to the North that he won’t stand by.

“Let’s look at another, in February this year the Prime Minister told this House ‘I can certainly confirm that we are going to develop the eastern leg as well as the whole of HS2, a new high speed line running continuously, no gaps, between Birmingham and Leeds’, so will the Prime Minister confirm that he stands by that promise?”

Mr Johnson replied: “I’m afraid (he) is in danger of getting hoist on his own petard, he needs to wait and see what we announce tomorrow, because I think he will find that the people of the North East, of the North West, the people of Leeds, the people of Nottingham, the people of Sheffield, the people of the whole of the North West and the North East of this country will benefit massively from what we are going to announce.”

Sir Keir said: "Again, a lot of words but not a yes. That's two important promises to the North he won't stand by. No wonder trust in the Prime Minister is at an all-time low."

The Prime Minister was also challenged on the topic by one of his own backbenchers on whether voters were right to take him “at his word” over past promises about Northern Powerhouse Rail.

Conservative MP Jake Berry, who represents Rossendale and Darwen, said: “In July 2019, I was in Manchester when the Prime Minister committed to build a new line, Northern Powerhouse Rail, between Manchester and Leeds.”

Mr Berry, who chairs the Northern Research Group of Tory MPs, added: “It was a firm commitment reaffirmed in our manifesto in November 2019, and last month reaffirmed in the Prime Minister’s conference speech in Manchester. Were the voters in the North right to take the Prime Minister at his word?”

Mr Johnson replied: “Yes. He should wait and see what is unveiled tomorrow when he may learn something to his advantage.”

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