Ex-leaders demand Rishi Sunak keeps rail link but just a third of public agree

Former Prime Ministers have urged Rishi Sunak not to pull the plug on the HS2 high-speed rail link – but exclusive polling shows only a third of people want it built in full.

The cost of the multi-billion pound plan has skyrocketed, but ex-premier Boris Johnson warned ministers are “out of our minds” if they are considering axing the Birmingham to Manchester leg.

He said: “We simply cannot afford to abandon this vision now – to panic, and throw up our hands, and say it is all too difficult.”

Mr Johnson’s predecessor, Theresa May, also warned against scaling back HS2, saying “we need more railway capacity to serve the North West”.

She also opposed halting the line at Old Oak Common in North West London, instead of Euston.

The Maidenhead, Berks, MP said: “Don’t stop at Old Oak Common. You need to take it into Euston because my constituents will be disadvantaged if you don’t.”

READ MORE: Theresa May joins Boris and Cameron in urging Rishi Sunak not to scrap HS2

Meanwhile, polling for the Sunday Express by WeThink has revealed:

● Thirty-one per cent say HS2 should be “scrapped entirely” with the amount spent so far written off.

● Thirty-four per cent say it should be axed once the London-Birmingham link is completed.

● Thirty-five per cent want the link “built in full”.

In an interview, Mr Sunak gave his clearest hint yet that the Manchester leg would not happen. He said: “I’ve got under the bonnet. I’ve seen what works, what doesn’t work and what I want to do differently. That’s the phase we’re in.”

The PM added: “What the North needs is connecting up all the towns and cities east to west. And that’s what we’re doing.”

Those who want HS2 to stop were asked what they wanted the money that was saved to be spent on.

Thirty-five per cent backed a faster east-west rail link in the North, one in five called for more arts and sports facilities in the region and 32 per cent wanted incentives for big companies to relocate to the North.

Thirteen per cent supported more autonomy and powers for mayors.

HS2 Ltd came under fire last week after publishing an “equality, diversity and inclusion” report.

One commentator said “people in charge of this taxpayer-funded project have all too frequently seemed to be more interested in social engineering than civil engineering”.

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