Conservative party conference: What happened on Tuesday?

While senior Tories were busy avoiding the topic of high-speed rail, home secretary Suella Braverman was striding into another quagmire

Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak looks on as he walks at the venue of Britain's Conservative Party conference in Manchester, Britain, October 3, 2023. REUTERS/Toby Melville
Rishi Sunak refused to make a commitment on the future of HS2 on day three of the Conservative party conference. (Reuters)

HS2 was still dominating the conversation as the third day of the Conservative party conference got under way, with Rishi Sunak refusing to give a firm answer as to whether the project's Manchester leg would be scrapped.

And while senior Tories were busy avoiding the topic of high-speed rail, home secretary Suella Braverman was striding into another quagmire as she doubled down on her controversial immigration comments.

Elsewhere, the 'war on woke' was battling on in full force, with health secretary Steve Barclay (backed by Braverman) announcing a ban on trans women in women's NHS wards and criticising 'militant' doctors for striking.

Sunak, too, had a pop at NHS strikes – suggesting they were the number one reason why hospital waiting lists were so long but failing to offer suggestions for improvement. Critics have suggested the focus on culture war issues is a distraction from bigger problems facing the party.

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Sunak refuses to confirm whether HS2 being scrapped

The prime minister refused to say whether or not the government would be scrapping the Manchester leg of HS2, despite news that the project would be shelved dominating Monday's conference.

Shortly before chancellor Jeremy Hunt was due to speak, ITV's political editor Robert Peston said the second phase of the high-speed rail project would not be going ahead - although Downing Street denied a final decision had been made.

Sunak, speaking from the Conservative party conference in Manchester on Tuesday, said: “I know there’s a lot of speculation on HS2. All I would say is the way I approach this job, I take a look at the facts, I take my time to get the decision right on behalf of the country – whatever it might be – and that’s what I’ll do with this, as I do with everything else.”

On BBC Breakfast he said: “As you saw with my recent decision on net zero, when I make a decision that I think is important of course I go and explain that to everyone, explain why I’m doing what I’m doing, why I thought it was right to change direction there.”

He added: “If that happens and is necessary, of course that’s what I’ll do.”

Trans women and NHS wards

Steve Barclay has announced plans to prevent trans women from using female-only hospital wards, telling the conference: “as Conservatives, we know what a woman is”.

The health Ssecretary said: “We will change the NHS constitution following a consultation later this year to make sure we respect the privacy, dignity and safety of all patients, recognise the importance of different biological needs and protect the rights of women.”

His comments were supported by the home secretary, who said that trans women “have no place in women’s wards” in hospitals.

Manchester on Sunday 1st October 2023. Steve Barclay MP during the Conservative Party Conference at Manchester Central Convention Complex, Manchester on Sunday 1st October 2023. (Photo: Pat Scaasi | MI News) Credit: MI News & Sport /Alamy Live News
Steve Barclay told Conservative party conference in Manchester that single-sex NHS wards would protect women. (MI News & Sport /Alamy Live News)

Braverman said: “The health secretary is absolutely right to clarify and make it clear that biological men should not have treatments in the same wards and in the same safe spaces as biological women.

“This is about protecting women’s dignity, and women’s safety and women’s privacy. And that’s why I’m incredibly supportive and I welcome the announcement today by the health secretary.”

However his comments were panned by LGBT+ charity Stonewall, which said: "This is a cynical attempt by the secretary of state to ‘look busy’ instead of getting on with the graft of implementing the women’s health strategy.

“Besides being unworkable, all it will achieve is to restrict access to healthcare for trans women, by making it humiliating and dangerous.”

Braverman doubles down on immigration comments

Despite the home secretary claiming her previous comments about immigration have been "somewhat mischaracterised", she doubled down on the anti-migrant rhetoric, also taking aim at the 'woke' mob.

In her Tuesday address to the conservative party conference, Braverman said her party stands with the “many” against the “privileged woke minority”.

"(The public) know another thing, that the future could bring millions more migrants to these shores, uncontrolled and unmanageable unless the government they elect next year acts decisively to stop that happening," she said.

Home Secretary Suella Braverman delivers her keynote speech during the Conservative Party annual conference at the Manchester Central convention complex. Picture date: Tuesday October 3, 2023.
Suella Braverman talked about 'uncontrollable' migration during her keynote speech on Tuesday. (Alamy)

Talking about “illegal immigration”, she said: “Our country has become enmeshed in a dense net of international rules that were designed for another era. And it is Labour that turbocharged their impact by passing the misnamed Human Rights Act.

“I’m surprised they didn’t call it the ‘Criminal Rights Act’.”

Her speech was interrupted, briefly, by London Assembly member Andrew Boff as she was discussing gender ideology.

Speaking to reporters as he was led from the conference centre, Boff hit out at the “trash” Braverman was saying, commenting: "It is making our Conservative Party look transphobic and homophobic.

"Our party has a proud record of standing up for LGBT+ rights and she is destroying it."

He said he had been in the party for over 50 years and was a “proud member”.