Senior Tory warns she won’t support tax rises unless HS2 is scrapped

A senior Tory has warned she will not support any tax rises in the autumn statement unless the Government scraps HS2.

Conservative former cabinet minister Esther McVey said the new high-speed railway is an “unnecessary vanity project” as she told MPs it was clear the Government’s financial difficulties are caused by “overspending” and not due to “under-taxing”.

Ms McVey, who represents the Tatton constituency in Cheshire and has long opposed HS2, warned Dominic Raab at Prime Minister’s Questions not to ask Conservative MPs to support any tax rises unless the project is scrapped.

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt is due to deliver his highly-anticipated autumn statement in the House of Commons on Thursday, where he is expected to announce a range of tax rises and spending cuts.

The Deputy Prime Minister reiterated the Government has got “some very difficult decisions to make”.

HS2 project
Former cabinet minister Esther McVey suggested the Government had enough money to avoid tax rises if it had the cash to fund HS2 (Jacob King/PA).

During the Conservative leadership race in the summer, the now Chancellor said he would have made Ms McVey his deputy prime minister if successful.

Ms McVey told the Commons: “Given that we have the highest burden of taxation in living memory, it is clear that the Government’s financial difficulties are caused by overspending and not due to under-taxing.

“Does the Deputy Prime Minister therefore agree if the Government has got enough money to proceed with HS2 at any cost, then it has sufficient money not to increase taxes?

“If, however, it has so little money it has to increase taxes, which is the last thing for a Conservative government to do, then it doesn’t have sufficient money for HS2?

“So can I gently urge the Deputy Prime Minister not to ask Conservative MPs to support any tax rises unless and until this unnecessary vanity project is scrapped because I, for one, won’t support them.”

Mr Raab said he understands her “opposition to HS2”, before adding: “I think we have got some very difficult decisions to make, they will inevitably involve a balanced approach, I will leave it to the Chancellor to set them out in the autumn statement tomorrow.”

Mr Raab deputised for Rishi Sunak at PMQs, as the Prime Minister is away at the G20 summit in Bali.

Conservative MP Michael Fabricant (Lichfield), another strong critic of HS2, later echoed Ms McVey’s comments, urging the Government to ditch the high-speed rail line project.

He said: “With tough decisions to be made on Thursday, the Chancellor of the Exchequer should reconsider his support of HS2.

“It neither links with HS1 and the continent, as was the original intention, nor connects with mainline stations such as Birmingham New Street. It stands disconnected and disjointed.

“Moreover, and importantly, the latest data show that the cost is now £155 billion, 121% over budget, and is running 12 years late. It is a national disgrace.”

In a recent written statement, Transport Secretary Mark Harper said that “the approximate cost range for the elements of the scheme committed to by the Government for Phases One, 2a, 2b Western Leg is £53-71 billion in 2019 prices”.

A spokesman for HS2 told the PA news agency: “With over 350 construction sites active between London and Crewe, three giant tunnelling machines currently underground, and works started on our viaducts and stations, HS2 is on budget and making fantastic progress.

“Furthermore, the project is providing work for almost 30,000 people, with tens of thousands more jobs supported through our wider supply chain, and more than 2,700 companies awarded HS2 contracts to date. HS2 is zero carbon public transport that will play a vital part in the Government’s ambitions to level up the Midlands and North.”