Chloe Westley: Axe HS2 to save taxpayers' Brexit bill

REPORTS suggest that the Government has agreed to a financial settlement with the EU of up to £50bn. Given the incessant negative coverage of Brexit in the broadcast media '“ even when the underlying conditions are not the disaster that was predicted '“ it was refreshing to hear that there was progress with talks.

Should HS2 be scrapped to pay for Brexit?

But in this debate, what’s often forgotten when these sums of money are bandied around is that politicians in Westminster and Brussels have no money of their own. Any bill will be paid for by taxpayers across the country.

That means that every penny Brussels is demanding needs to be justified clearly to the British people. What’s more, given that the public finances are still in poor shape, any settlement should not be paid for by tax hikes or more borrowing.

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That means reducing spending. They could do this by looking for the costliest, most pointless project on the books and simply scrap it. Step forward HS2 – this ludicrous scheme could cost up to £100bn. So that would cover the Brexit bill and any further monetary contributions to Brussels, while leaving some money left over for better and more growth-enhancing infrastructure projects.

HS2 is a wasteful vanity project which is highly unlikely to be completed on schedule and will cost taxpayers a fortune. This project won’t be missed: a national poll conducted this year found that only a third of people are in favour, and only ten per cent of people believe that HS2 will benefit them personally.

Brexit, however, is of paramount concern for the whole country. It remains to be seen whether a settlement fee of £50bn would be of net benefit for taxpayers. What is abundantly clear is that it is a vast sum of taxpayers’ money.

It is more than Yorkshire’s entire yearly tax contributions in 2016. It’s also enough money to build at least 90 new hospitals, train more than 800,000 teachers and cover the cost of our foreign aid budget three times over. When you also take into account the fact the Britain has been a net contributor to the EU budget, it’s understandable that many are angry about the proposed Brexit bill.

Whatever the final bill, we should receive immediate assurances that no new taxes will be introduced or raised 
in order to pay for it

People in this country are under the highest tax burden in 30 years, and it’s actually those on lower incomes who are paying the highest proportion of their income in direct and indirect taxes.

Theresa May should also assure taxpayers that further borrowing will not be used to pay our financial settlement to the EU. We are already £1.8 trillion in debt, and more borrowing will only pass on the burden to future generations.

So it’s crucial for politicians to spend our taxes responsibly and not waste them on vanity projects like HS2. And it’s also part of the reason that so many people were sick of sending money to the EU. That’s why the Brexit bill should be a reasonable amount based on a mutually beneficial trade deal, rather than British taxpayers being held to ransom.

It makes sense to pay for the Brexit bill by scraping the discredited and wasteful HS2 project. This would cover any financial settlement and further payments to Brussels without taking more money away from taxpayers or adding to the national debt. It would also leave some money aside for better, targeted infrastructure projects like rail electrification, adding lanes to busy dual carriageways and rolling out 5G.

But if we don’t pay the Brexit, doesn’t that just mean we’ll get no deal? Well, we are spending up to £3bn on a ‘no deal’ scenario now, and that could be far better than spending between £50-£100bn on a Brexit bill because we have to sign a deal at any cost.

The TaxPayers’ Alliance has tens of thousands of supporters and many of them voted to remain. Our main priority is to help make sure taxpayers get a fair deal. And by cancelling our reported £100bn commitment to the HS2 project to fund the cost of Brexit, the Government can show that they’re doing just that.

Chloe Westley is campaign manager at the TaxPayers’ Alliance.