Following days of speculation, the prime minister, who is apparently alarmed by the runaway cost of the rail project, is set to announce a halt to the northern leg of HS2, that was due to connect Manchester with Birmingham.
Instead he is expected to pledge to reinvest around £36 billion of savings into road and rail schemes in the North and Midlands.
However, he will reportedly give the go-ahead for the scheme to reach central London in Euston, rather than terminating in the western suburbs of Old Oak Common after pressure from within the Cabinet.
According to The Times, Sunak made the decision about HS2 after he was shown figures suggesting the overall price could top £100bn.
However, the decision has been described as an “incredible political gaffe” by senior members of his own party, while political opponents have also criticised Sunak’s decision.
Transport secretary Mark Harper acknowledged that “some people won’t like” the decision Sunak makes.
Have your say: Do you think the HS2 project should now be scrapped?
The HS2 debate: Read more
Save or scrap? What HS2’s champions and critics have said (The Guardian)
Time for Britain to cut its losses and axe HS2 (The Telegraph)
The prime minister has faced immediate criticism from political leaders directly affected by the decision to axe the Birmingham to Manchester leg.
The Tory mayor for the West Midlands, Andy Street, said it would be “an incredible political gaffe” allowing opponents to accuse Sunak of having decided to “shaft the North” while in Manchester.
He said any alternative infrastructure proposals would not be adequate to replace HS2 to Manchester.
The Labour mayor for Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, also warned that any alternative scheme would not be feasible without key parts of the infrastructure that would have formed HS2.
Criticising the announcement, Burnham added to BBC’s Newsnight: “Sometimes in politics, it’s not just what you do, but it’s the way that you do it.
“So announcing this decision in Manchester, I think just shows contempt for the place.”
He added: “In effect, what they are deciding is that the north of England will have a smaller economy for the rest of this century as a result of this decision.”
Which parts of HS2 have already been scrapped?
While the prime minister prepare to announced the scrapping of the northern leg of the HS2 rail project, some parts have already been axed.
Following years of concern over spiralling costs, the government announced in November 2021 that the eastern leg of the line – from Birmingham to Leeds – was scrapped.
The land needed for the routed remained “safeguarded” in case future governments chose to fund it.
In July 2022, a £3bn branch of the HS2 network designed to speed up rail journeys between London and Scotland was quietly ditched by ministers, provoking outrage from rail industry groups.
In March this year it was confirmed that construction between Birmingham and Crewe would be delayed by two years.
Transport secretary Mark Harper announced the delay, blaming increases costs – that were forecast to rise to £4.5bn.
Work at Euston station has also been paused for two years, with reports initially suggesting the line could stop in a west London suburb instead to save money – but Sunak is expected to keep the current plans to stop at Euston following Cabinet pressure.
How many years will HS2 take?
The HS2 project was first given consideration in January 2009, when the then Labour government looked into its feasibility.
It took another three years for the project to be given the green light by the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition government.
However, formal construction did not actually get under way September 2020, when then-prime minister Boris Johnson said the “incredible” project was “crucial for out country”.
Since then – and before any work even started – the project has been blighted by delays and concerns over costs.
The first phase of the project, between London and Birmingham, was supposed to open at the end of the 2026 – but this has now been pushed back to between 2029 and 2033.
There are also major delays to the second phase, which was originally scheduled to open in 2032 but is now expected as late as 2040 – 20 years after construction began.
Does Labour want to scrap HS2?
Labour’s official stance on HS2 is that it wants the project to be delivered in full.
However, the party’s messaging on the issue appears mixed, with shadow Cabinet Office minister Steve McFadden suggesting that the costs would need to be reviewed.
Last month he told BBC’s Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg that a future Labour government would have “to look at the costs of everything we do”.
He added: “I want to see what this costs and we’ll make the decision in the manifesto.”
However, five Labour mayors across the UK last week made it clear that they want the prime minister to stay on track with HS2.
Sadiq Khan, Andy Burnham, Tracy Brabin, Oliver Coppard and Steve Rotheram issued a joint plea to Sunak not to cut HS2 further and turned the Northern Powerhouse Rail project to be delivered in full.