Kay Burley quizzes Grant Shapps over HS2
Fears are growing in Tory high command that one of its most prominent public figures, West Midlands Metro Mayor Andy Street, could resign.
It comes as Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is poised to reveal a major scale down of the HS2 project.
Mr Street has stood out as one of the rail link’s biggest defenders during this year’s Manchester conference, saying: “If you tell the international investment community you are going to do something, you bloody well have to stick to your word”.
He also took the extraordinary decision to call an emergency press conference after press reports emerged confirming Mr Sunak has taken the decision to junk the Manchester to Birmingham branch of the high-speed track.
The popular mayor said Rishi Sunak would be “turning his back on levelling up” by cutting the project.
The Express understands Mr Street was proving a major roadblock to signing off the plans yesterday evening.
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This morning it’s revealed Mr Street is still “furious” about the impending cancellation of the northern leg, and has “met Rishi Sunak repeatedly in the past 24 hours” – none of which went well.
Senior Tories now fear Mr Street could quit the Tory Party, possibly even before Mr Sunak’s speech in a move that would overshadow whatever the Prime Minister plans on saying.
At his emergency press conference earlier in the week, Mr Street repeatedly refused to rule out resigning over the row.
The former John Lewis managing director surprised onlookers by winning the first metro mayor election for the West Midlands in 2017, beating Labour by a slim 50.4 percent of the vote.
In 2021 he won again, an even bigger surprise, taking 54 percent of the vote in a largely Labour region.
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The move would be a major blow to Mr Sunak, who has been teed up to confirm the HS2 cut by Grant Shapps during his morning media round.
Speaking to Times Radio, the Defence Secretary – and former Transport secretary – said Rishi Sunak will confirm the scrapping of the Northern leg, arguing “the world has changed”.
“I know it’s much anticipated and lots of people have have said that there’ll be something with HS2 in it. I think we can be pretty confident that will be heard. You heard it here first,”
“Tens of billions of pounds: what could that bring to communities across the country and across the north that they don’t have at the moment, which could really help with people’s lives? These decisions aren’t always popular, but I think Rishi’s right to be prepared to consider them, think them through in detail, and set out his plan for the brighter future.”
Mr Shapps said despite the fact there won’t be any faster track past Birmingham, the high speed trains will still run to Manchester and Leeds.
He argued that this, combined with smarter signalling, will still produce an improved rail service for the north.
“HS2 trains under any of these circumstances would run to Manchester. Indeed, they’re actually going run to Leeds as well… the journey time will be dramatically faster than it is, but not as fast as that second part of High Speed.”
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